NIDA acknowledges the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the lands on which we learn and tell stories, the Bidjigal, Gadigal, Dharawal and Dharug peoples, and we pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders past and present.

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Justice Jones delivers Student Response at virtual NIDA graduation

Justice Jones at the NIDA virtual graduation ceremony (Photo: Maja Baska)

Good afternoon guests, faculty, family, friends and of course the graduating cohort of 2019. Although the circumstances of today are probably not what we expected, WE MADE IT. In what was undoubtedly an intense experience, we survived one of the most distinguished creative arts institutions in the world and for that we should be proud.

This is technically my second ‘untraditional’ graduation. As the first person to go to university in my family, all my parents wanted was a photo of me in the Harry Potter gown and fancy hat to put in their living room and show off to their friends. But of course, I got the dates mixed up (this was before I was an organised director, don’t worry Dr Ben) and the ‘YAY you finished, go celebrate with a European Summer holiday’ I was taking myself on, clashed directly with my graduation – I was double booked. So on the date that my ceremony was set to take place, I instead had scheduled a hot date with a Sicilian local. And now, second time around and a hell of study debt later, my parents are watching me graduate via zoom – still without a photo. Sorry mum and dad!

I don’t know about you, but it blows my mind that from today onwards I get to refer to myself as an alumna from the National Institute of Dramatic Art. A place that has nurtured the talents of so many extraordinary creatives; Cate Blanchett, Deborah Riley, Baz Luhrmann and all of you – my peers, who have inspired me, challenged me and taught me what it means to be an artist. Whether you’re a fellow postgrad or a vocational student who has only called this place home for the last 15 months or an undergrad who has spent the last three years growing and learning – congratulations. Not only for finishing, but for every idea that you developed, every prop that you built, every schedule that you made, every set that you designed, every word that you wrote and every character that you lived. What we do is so important; art is so important. And the indispensability of our industry has never proved more true than today.

Art has sustained our world in the loneliest and darkest of days and it’s safe to say, as of late we’ve had plenty. 2020 will certainly be a year with a hefty chapter in our history books and although it has brought with it some events and circumstances that have challenged and shook us to our core, it has also forced us to reflect on the notion and necessity of change.

There was a brilliant Nigerian writer called Chinua Achebe who wrote boldly of the need to use creative expression for social change. He famously writes in one of his essays, that if ‘an artist is anything he is a human being with heightened sensitivities; he must be aware of the faintest nuances of injustice in human relations.’ As artists we have the potential to pave the way for social reform. The world looks to us to see what we are representing, what stories we are telling and what voices we are amplifying - we have chosen a career that gives us public influence and as the next generation of theatre makers, we can’t shy away from this responsibility. Instead, we must proudly own it, be at the forefront of change and make it our duty to respond to the times and craft a world of justice and substance for future generations.

One of the most valuable lessons I learnt as a director at NIDA, is the importance of asking ‘Why?’ So next time you sit down to write or design or get a new opportunity to act or direct ask yourself the simple question, ‘why now?’ Consider the potential of your art today, in 2020 and remember that you are the author of this next chapter of life. It excites me to think of the possibilities in the future of every single person graduating today and although all our journeys have been and will be different, we are united by the same overwhelming passion to create. I know it’s scary having invested so much of who you are into this wild industry, but take confidence in the power of your work to infiltrate the soul of others, to enrich lives and to change the world.

There is an Arabic proverb that says ‘ask the experienced rather than the learnt.’ We have the foundations now, we’ve read the books and we’ve learnt the lines – so now it’s time to go out and live. Having these degrees means nothing if we don’t engage with the world around us and use it to impact and inspire our work. ‘Experience’ isn’t defined by getting the best agent, working with STC or designing for the next Marvel movie, it’s way more simple than that and isn’t something you can always pinpoint on your CV. It means getting out of your comfort zone; meeting different people, connecting with new cultures, taking up a new hobby, allowing yourself to feel lonely, falling in love or falling out of it. Art is human expression and only when we experience what it means to be human, will our work be honest and true.

Class of 2019, you are incredible. Your talent is enormous and your futures are bright. We all walked into this place with passion and potential and today we walk or ‘Zoom’ out of it well equipped to turn our dreams into a reality. Never underestimate who you are or your impact. So many of you have inspired others, including myself without even realising it and I know moving forward with all of your future successes, I am going to be truly proud to say that I studied with and shared the same building as you.

Congratulations again and thank you for contributing to what has been one of the most life-changing and unforgettable experiences. I was going to end with some really profound quote, but instead I’m just going to tell you what I read on the back of a bathroom stall in Newtown: ‘Look at art, make art and make sure you always be art.’

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