Watkins College of Art celebrated the work and contributions of 49 talented artists in the disciplines of art, film, fine art, graphic design, interior design, and photography at its Commencement on May 20th. President J. Kline began the ceremony by noting that a college degree is an achievement, but having created a body of work alongside it is that much more extraordinary. He asked the graduates to applaud the family members, the faculty, and the staff who had assisted them on their journey. “No graduate walks the path toward enlightenment alone,” he said.
After giving the Samuel Watkins Award for Excellence to interior design graduate Anna Caro, Kline awarded an honorary degree to Commencement speaker Bob Bernstein. Bernstein has had a highly creative and fascinating journey to his current post as CEO of Bongo Productions, which oversees such Music City hotspots as Bongo Java, Fido, Fetch, Fenwick’s, and Grins. After initially attending three universities where he was reluctant to commit to a major, Bernstein decided to combine his interests in writing and politics and received his master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. After, he moved to Nashville from Chicago in 1988 to work for the Nashville Business Journal. In 1991, a month shy of his 30th birthday, Bernstein quit journalism with the goal of opening a coffeehouse. In the 24 years since Bongo Java opened, he has grown his company into a $10-million restaurant group that owns seven cafes, two wholesale businesses, several licensed locations, as well as real estate property.
Bernstein offered numerous insights during his talk with the graduates, explaining that while the notion of “just doing it” is appealing, it took three years to convince himself to pursue his passion. He said many believe that taking such a leap immediately portends success, but that a leap is only the first step. Practice and perseverance are what ensure success. Bernstein also instructed graduates to trust their instincts, find someone who will always tell you the truth, and understand that growth emerges out of flexibility. Read Bernstein’s full commencement speech here.
After the degrees were awarded, while families and guests enjoyed a luncheon by the lake, President Kline offered another thought on the moving ritual Commencement is. “There is a profound connection between the thriving of a nation’s artists and the thriving of its collective society,” he said. “We couldn’t be prouder to have been the incubator for this graduating class, who are now poised to become the creatives driving the creative economy in Music City and beyond.”
The mission of Watkins College of Art is to challenge individuals to deepen their talent, refine their creative practice, and dedicate their lives to advancing culture through the illuminating power of art. The college boasts a high employment rate of students who work in the creative areas they studied (87 percent). Indeed, throughout its 132 years, Watkins has been a pioneer in connecting individuals to their highest potential. Begun by Samuel Watkins in 1885 with the goal of teaching the “business of life,” the college has mobilized to meet the needs of an ever-changing population, particularly those who may have struggled to gain their footholds, such as immigrants in the early 20th century, women as they joined the workforce in the 1930s and 40s, and servicemen upon their return from World War II.
This year, Watkins—which offers a 65,000-square-foot facility, state-of-the-art silo studios, and modern residence halls—initiated an ambitious effort to rebrand itself and will be unveiling over the next year more plans that seek to further its reputation as one of the finest arts conservatories in the country.