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Announcement
April 21, 2021

Virgil Abloh to deliver keynote address at 2021 commencement

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)

Left to right: Virgil Abloh, Elizabeth Diller, Shepard Fairey and Lynn Nottage. Courtesy of the honorees.

Abloh, architect Elizabeth Diller, OBEY Giant founder Shepard Fairey and playwright Lynn Nottage will receive honorary degrees.

On June 5, Rhode Island School of Design will award degrees to 403 undergraduate and 212 graduate students. The day will begin with a virtual speaking and awards program at 10am ET, followed by an in-person degree conferral at 2pm ET. Due to COVID-19 protocols, families and friends are invited to watch both parts of the celebration remotely at commencement.risd.edu.

Commencement speaker & honorary degree recipient
Born in Rockford, IL, Virgil Abloh is an artist, architect, engineer, creative director, artistic director, industrial designer, fashion designer, musician, DJ and philanthropist. After earning a degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he completed a master’s degree in architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), Chicago. At IIT, while studying a design curriculum devised by Mies van der Rohe, Abloh began to craft the principles of his art practice. The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presented a major traveling survey of his work in summer 2019—one of the best attended exhibitions in the museum’s history. Currently, Abloh is the chief creative director and founder of Off-White™️ and men’s artistic director at Louis Vuitton.

Honorary degree recipients
Elizabeth Diller
is a partner at Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R). She and partner Ricardo Scofidio were included on TIME’s 100 Most Influential People list, and she earned the first MacArthur Foundation Fellowship awarded in the field of architecture. DS+R completed two of the largest architecture and planning initiatives in New York City’s recent history: the adaptive reuse of an obsolete, industrial rail infrastructure into the High Line, a 1.5-mile long public park, and the transformation of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ half-century-old campus. Most recently, Diller led two other projects significant to New York: The Shed and the expansion of MoMA. She also co-created, co-directed and co-produced The Mile-Long Opera, an immersive choral work featuring 1,000 singers assembled along the length of the High Line. Diller is a professor of Architectural Design at Princeton University.

Shepard Fairey (RISD BFA '92 Illustration) is a contemporary street artist, graphic designer, activist, illustrator, DJ and founder of OBEY Giant Art and OBEY Clothing. In 1989, while still a student at RISD, he created the Andre the Giant has a Posse sticker, which later evolved into his OBEY GIANT art campaign. In 2008, his portrait of then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama became an internationally recognized emblem of hope. Since then, Fairey has hand-painted more than 105 public murals across five continents, becoming one of the world’s most provocative artists and changing the way people view the urban landscape. Fairey’s stickers, guerilla street art presence and public murals are recognized globally. His works are in the permanent collections of the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum and many others. Born in Charleston, SC, Fairey now resides in Los Angeles.

Lynn Nottage is a playwright and screenwriter and the first woman in history to win two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama. Her plays, which have been produced widely in the US and around the world, include Floyd’s, Sweat, Mlima's Tale, By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, Ruined, Intimate Apparel, Fabulation or the Re-Education of Undine Crumbs from the Table of Joy, Las Meninas, Mud, River, Stone, Por’knockers and POOF! She has also written such musical librettos as The Secret Life of Bees and MJ (forthcoming); developed This is Reading, a performance installation presented in Reading, PA; and served as a writer and producer on the first season of the Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It, directed by Spike Lee. Nottage is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship, a Steinberg “Mimi” Distinguished Playwright Award, a Doris Duke Artist Award and a PEN/Laura Pels Master Playwright Award, among others. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild and an associate professor at Columbia University School of the Arts.

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