Rhode Island School of Design

Celebrate the Class of 2021
& Plan Ahead for 2022

On June 5 we celebrated the achievements and perseverance of 407 undergraduate and 214 graduate students as they received their degrees from Rhode Island School of Design. Like so many events and milestones during this time, RISD’s 2021 Commencement looked different—but always true to the spirit of our unique community.

Save the Date for 2022

Commencement for the Class of 2022 will be held on Saturday June 4. Details will be posted to this site as plans are finalized.

Saturday, June 5, 10 am ET
Livestream Event

Bookmark this page! On Commencement day you’ll find a video stream of all programming—speakers, student honorees, conferrals and live music. No need to RSVP, as everyone around the world is invited to attend this year’s festivities.

10 am –11 am ET
Commencement Programming
11 am ET
2–4 pm ET
Live Graduate Conferrals

Where to Line Up

2021 Speakers & Honorees

Virgil Abloh

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.

Elizabeth Diller

Honorary Degree Recipient

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, -directed and -produced The Mile-Long Opera, an immersive choral work featuring 1,000 singers assembled along the length of the High Line. Diller, who was recently appointed a member of the United Nations Council on Urban Initiatives, is a professor of Architectural Design at Princeton University.

Shepard Fairey

Honorary Degree Recipient

RISD alumnus Shepard Fairey [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

Honorary Degree Recipient

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 Floyds, Sweat, Mlimas 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.

David Byrne

Honorary Degree Recipient

World-renowned musician, performer and multidisciplinary artist David Byrne began his artistic journey as a student at RISD in 1971 before briefly attending MICA, where he studied photography, performance and video production. He co-founded the group Talking Heads in 1975, introducing his innovative visual approach to performance to audiences around the world. Byrne works in photography, drawing, installation art, performance and design and has been publishing and exhibiting his work since the 1990s. Like his music, Byrne’s visual work elevates the ordinary into the iconic and challenges fundamental notions of what constitutes art. Recent works include the Broadway debut of David Byrne’s American Utopia (2019) as well as the Spike Lee-directed film version (2020), the launch of his Reasons to be Cheerful online magazine (2019) and the solo album American Utopia (2018). His work is on display at numerous institutions, including the Denver Art Museum and the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, NC. His book projects include How Music Works (2012), Arboretum (2006), Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information (2003) and David Byrne Asks You: What Is It? (2002). Byrne lives and works in New York City.

Warren Family Social Engagement Award

The Warren Family Social Engagement Award is presented to a graduating student whose creativity, energy, care for others and devotion to the greater good has made a significant difference in the RISD community.

Aya Alghanmeh's impact as a community and political organizer will be felt at RISD for years to come. A founding member of the RISD Anti-Racist Coalition, she is among several BIPOC students whose demands for racial justice have accelerated our efforts to make RISD more just, equitable and inclusive at all levels of the institution. An Illustration major, Aya is also the president and founder of RISD Students for Justice in Palestine, through which she has forged alliances across many organizations dedicated to justice for oppressed peoples worldwide. And as a research and education coordinator in the Center for Social Equity and Inclusion this year, Aya has focused on centering our academic curriculum on core values of diversity and decoloniality.

Namrata Dhore lives and works according to the principle that her work as a designer, researcher and organizer should be accessible and serve as a tool for collective organizing and advancement. Her commitment to socially engaged work has taken many forms at RISD, from co-curating (re)position, a student exhibition focused on postcolonial creative practice, to involvement with risdARC’s call for racial justice across the institution. An Architecture major, Namrata has also led initiatives to address inequities in the field, including as a cofounder of the Project Archive Collective, which is engaged in efforts to diversify the architectural design canon and challenge pedagogical and professional inequities in the field.

Steven Mendelson Award for Community Service

Initiated by an anonymous donor, this award honors the late Illustration alumnus Steven Mendelson, a member of the Class of 1981 who passed away from AIDS in 1995. The Steven Mendelson Community Service Award is presented to a graduating senior who through their energy, efforts and devotion has significantly contributed to the quality, diversity and development of the community we share at RISD, while fulfilling the requirements of a quality education.

Kaanchi Chopra grew up in Delhi, India with a passion for art and activism, and an awareness of design’s power to make sustainable change in the lives of others. When she came to RISD, she brought a dedication to service with her. In her first year she created a board game designed to foster community among people living in emergency housing, and she has continued to apply her skills as an industrial designer to such issues as environmental waste and the inequities and unethical practices embedded in the fashion industry. On campus she was a leader of the South Asian Students Association, working to elevate the voices of marginalized groups and to create a culture of allyship across the RISD community.

John R. Frazier Award for Excellence in Teaching

The John R. Frazier Award for Excellence in Teaching is named for the late John R. Frazier, a graduate of the class of 1912, RISD’s president from 1955–62, and a beloved professor of painting for many years. It was the hope of his family and friends that by establishing a memorial fund in his name, RISD’s “outstanding faculty” would be acknowledged and rewarded.

For more than 30 years Paul Sproll has been dedicated to creating opportunities for young people to grow and thrive through art. His commitment to social justice, K-12 art learning and community building have defined his leadership and innovation in art and design education at RISD and Rhode Island. A generous and inspiring mentor and educator, he encourages his students to “design learning experiences” that draw on the power of art and design to communicate big ideas, inspiring all around him to envision art and design education as a conduit to a better world.

Laura Briggs BArch 82, is that rare educator who can broadly engage the art, theory and science of her environmental design practice to inspire a varied range of students. She encourages them to create a more sustainable and caring world through her teaching model of praxis—acting in the world to understand it. Extending outside the confines of RISD’s classrooms and studios into the greater community of Providence, her coursework and collaborative projects benefit both RISD students and the wider community

Student Speakers

Alla Alsahli graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Apparel Design. While Alla was at RISD, she served as a Project Thrive mentor, cultural programmer, resident advisor, and monitor for the Nature Lab, materials library, fitness center and apparel building. She co-curated a successful exhibit at the Gelman Gallery, The Color of My Land, and was a recipient of the Esper Shwary Scholarship. She was also awarded the Nancy Elizabeth Prophet Award for Advancing Diversity and Inclusion and the Steven Mendelson Community Service Award. Since graduating she has worked as the lead designer for an apparel company based in California, and this summer, she will conduct computation and robotics research at the Princeton University creAte Lab.

Sophie Weston Chien graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Architecture from RISD last year and will be pursuing a Master of Landscape Architecture at Harvard Graduate School of Design in the fall. She is a core member of Design as Protest, an anti-racist design collective. As a designer-organizer, she focuses on community engagement, spatial thinking and design activism for public spaces and public good.

Catherine Park is graduating as a five-year BFA double major in Industrial Design and Graphic Design. During her time at RISD, Catherine served as the 2019–20 Student Alliance President and focused on issues dedicated to accessibility and community both as a student activist and designer. She was inspired to come to RISD by her big brother William, and after learning that the Met served pizza until 2 in the morning.

Teisha Bradley was born and raised in Washington, DC, and received a Bachelor of Science in Architecture and Environmental Studies from Morgan State University. While studying at RISD she served as vice president and then president of the National Organization for Minority Architecture Students, and as campus activities board co-chair. She has worked as a RISD hall monitor, teaching assistant, research assistant, CAD lab monitor, wood shop monitor, photo cage monitor, and a mover with big muscles. She has volunteered at DownCity Design and sat on the American Institute of Architects Rhode Island JEDI. This past winter session she taught a course called Black Architects.

Maharam Fellowship

Yunni Cho BRDD 21 IA
Kaanchi Chopra 21 ID
Chetan Dusane MID 21
Valeria Ramirez Ensastiga MA 20 NCSS
Holly Gaboriault MA 21 GAC
Enrico Giori BArch 21
Jasmine Gutbrod 20 FD/MA 21
Eli Kauffman 21 PT
Kaitlin Reed BRDD 21 ID
Hannah Garrett MFA 21 DM
Juan Javier Syquia BRDD 21 GD
Jisu Yang BArch 21

Monson Arts Summer Design Residencies

John Dixon MFA 21 FD
Lauren Goodman MFA 21 FD

Windgate-Lamar Fellowship

Hera Ford 20 TX

Brown Social Innovation Fellowship

Kaitlin Reed BRDD 21 ID

Parents Council Fine Arts Scholarship

Sophia-Yemisi Adeyemo-Ross 21 PT
Lea Fabre 21 SC
Victoria Khrobostova 21 IL

The Creative Group Grant

Nicole Kim 21 ID

Textron Summer Fellowship

Soeun Yoon 21 GD

Anderson Ranch Residency

Felicita Devlin 21 TX

Undergraduate Class of 2021

Graduate Class of 2021

This list includes the names of students who have completed or are projected to complete degree requirements before August 31st, 2021. Inclusion in this list should not be interpreted as official evidence of graduation. Official diplomas are only awarded to those who have completed degree requirements.