Launching the Future from Ringling College

Guest Correspondence

We tell students when they’re still very young that the sky’s the limit. Well, I believe they can go even further when we encourage and support them in opening their minds and envisioning worlds beyond ours—when they’re encouraged to dream loud and dream big.

For many students, however, these dreams are hard to realize because of geographical, financial and other barriers. So how do we connect students with a unique potential and talent for out-of-this-world thinking with the resources they need to make it happen?

We at Ringling College ask ourselves this question all year round, and one answer is our biggest and most spirited fundraiser—An Evening at the Avant-Garde. This annual costume-themed event centers on a specific concept each year, and this year’s inspiration was “Light Years Ahead,” which could not be more fitting considering the accelerated pace of development and achievement at the College.

Not coincidentally, by the way, our graduation Commencement speaker for 2017 is none other than the astronaut, aquanaut and artist Nicole Stott. Nicole has made two spaceflights and spent over 100 days living and working in space on both the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station. She has actually seen the earth from space—an awesome perspective we want all our students to have—metaphorically speaking, if not literally!

This year’s Avant-Garde, held last Saturday, welcomed our friends, faculty, staff and donors to a galactic-themed fundraiser for student scholarships. And this year, thanks to our wonderful community, we raised a record amount of approximately $300,000. Attendees gathered on campus to participate in a silent auction, explore a miniature planetarium, and experience virtual realities with our Computer Animation and Game Art faculty. They were truly transported “to infinity and beyond.”

Yet the most moving and significant moment of the evening came when the student recipient of the Avant-Garde scholarship, Nahman L’rar (Illustration, ’18), told us his story—a story that underscored the very real challenges that many students face when pursing a dream beyond the stratosphere.

Abandoned in his youth here in the U.S., Nahman and his siblings spent most of their time and energy fighting for survival. After being sent back to Israel to live with family and friends, they worked hard to stay together, keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. As an act of gratitude for the government assistance given to them, Nahman served three years in the Israeli Army. During all of these trials and tribulations, he held on to his passion for art and drawing, never imagining he would one day have the opportunity to pursue his education and his dream of being an artist. And yet there he stood on campus last Saturday evening, sharing his story and receiving not just a scholarship, but a standing ovation for his bravery and brilliance.

Stories like Nahman’s highlight the extreme struggles many face when pursuing a degree in higher education. The support he received on his journey has empowered him to reach his fourth year of study at Ringling College.

I want to thank all of you who have been friends and donors to Ringling College for helping our students realize their highest aspirations. I also want to thank all of you who give to any institution of higher education, especially any here in the Sarasota-Bradenton area, in support of scholarships for students so that any student can reach for the stars and realize their dreams. You make a tremendous difference, not only to our institution of art and design but, more importantly, to the education of students who otherwise might find insurmountable obstacles on their starlit paths to success.

Dr. Larry R. Thompson is president of Ringling College of Art and Design.

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