Monday, May 19, 2008

Field of Dreams

This past week I returned to my beloved New York City for New York University’s 176th commencement exercises. NYU’s campus enfolds Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park on each side and it is here that the graduation festivities are typically held, the student body entering through the famous arch. However, this year the park is undergoing massive renovations, forcing the university to look elseware for a facility large enough to accommodate the 25,000 graduates, faculty, family members and guests.

The final solution was, in a word, inspired.

Wednesday morning I, and thousands of my fellow graduates, were granted our degrees in the House that Ruth Built, the famed Yankee Stadium. It is the first and the last graduation to ever be held there, as the 85-year-old ballpark will be torn down at the end of this season to make way for a larger, more modern stadium.

The ceremony itself was suffused with baseball metaphors, as nearly every speaker to grace the microphone, from student to guest, compared America’s game with academic accomplishments — life is like running the bases, sometimes you hit homeruns, know when to steal a base, etc. You get the general idea. Honorees this year included foremost liberal constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe, New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan and actor Michael J. Fox.

If three hours of speechmaking sounds mind-numbingly boring, you’d have loved William Lopez’s surprise addition to the morning’s program. Overtaken by events, the graduating senior stripped out of his pants and when the security guard in front of him turned away, Lopez vaulted over the rail and onto the field.

He hit first base, rounded the diamond and was heading for home plate when, just feet from his goal, half a dozen security guards tackled him to the ground and drug him away. Mr. Lopez has a court summons this week. I really doubt he cares. His 15 minutes of fame were plastered all over New York and even the national news.

It seemed fitting that at the close of the ceremony, the brass band gathered in the dugout played Strauss’ “Thus Spake Zarathustra”, best known to modern audiences as the famed strains that open 2001: A Space Odyssey. Fitting not only because the film stands as a favorite for most all Cinema Studies students, myself included, but also because it was as if we were those crude apes discovering tools and preparing to conquer outer space with our newly minted degrees.

Wednesday was the university graduation, but my specific school, Tisch School of the Arts, did not hold its ceremony until three days later. This time the festivities took place at Madison Square Garden. As inspiring as it was (alum Amy Heckerling, the director of such films as Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless gave a wonderfully scatterbrained speech full of motherly advice and sage industry wisdom), I found myself looking around at the gathered graduates — the future screenwriters, directors, costumers, actors, composers, set decorators, film critics, cinematographers, etc. — and wondering why this was the first time we’d ever met together under one roof. There was no program or incentive to draw us together while we were students, despite the fact that as we now head out into the “real world” we must all begin working together as one. How much better could it have been if we’d begun forging those bonds in the crucible of our academic lives?

The truth is, I graduate with mixed feelings. Part of me assumed that I would leave the Cinema Studies program with an illuminated path pointing unencumbered to my shining destiny. In truth, I am no more certain of exactly what I want to do now as when I entered the program. In fact, I cannot even say that I even learned much of anything knew. I reinforced, I augmented, I stretched, but mostly I expanded on the knowledge I already had. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you. But if a part of me was expecting clouds to be rent asunder and heavily choirs to sing out the secrets of the universe, I was sorely disappointed. I am also not so proud as to admit that I may be too much in the proverbial forest to yet recognize individual trees. Time may reveal a different story than I now see.

Going into grad school, I was told by many friends who’d already indulged it, that it's not about what you learn so much as who you meet, the networks you establish and the experiences you create. And they were right. My horizons have been expanded and my vision enlarged.

And those with whom I lived through these past two years are among the greatest friends I have ever made. Today’s friends are tomorrow’s collaborators.

The week wasn’t all pomp and circumstance. To say that New York was not an education in and of itself is a radical deception. Stephanie and I relished being back in New York, especially for so protracted an amount of time. Our love of this city is difficult to put into words. It is something exuberant, haughty, boisterous, ravenous, larger-than-life, delicate, whimsical, elegant, luminous, audacious, transportive, brash, sublime, unbound and covetous. It is home.

We visited the iconic Empire State Building, which was lit purple in honor of NYU’s graduates.

I attended the screening of NYU’s “Docs on the Edge,” a collection of short documentaries written, produced and conceptualized by some of my dearest friends and classmates. Such film festivals are always incredibly inspiring, more so when the talent is so near and dear to your heart.

We spent a lot of time with my cousins, Haim and Monica and participated in their eldest son, Ezra’s birthday celebration at his Hebrew school.

We also met up with Lisa, a high school friend who was in the city as part of FOX’s upfronts (the week in which the networks pitch their forthcoming seasons to advertisers). A little birdy says keep your eyes out for J.J. Abrams’ “Fringe,” and Josh Weaton’s “Dollhouse.”

We had breakfast at the delectable Balthazar in SoHo and dined on a platter of succulent oysters and clams at the Grand Central Oyster Bar.

And strolled through Central Park.

We also caught two Broadway shows. “Macbeth” stars Patrick Stewart in a role a slew of critics are calling the best of their lifetimes and for which he was just nominated for a Tony. As interpreted through a Stalinesque aesthetic, the play was a fusion of fascist, avant-garde and Kubrickian imagery. Simply marvelous. For the first time in more than a dozen shows, I joined the throng outside the stage door and met Stewart on his way out. What else was a Star Trek geek of my stature to do!?

The second production was “Boeing, Boeing,” a revival of the original 1960's French show about a man juggling multiple fiancees who are all flight attendants from different countries. Staring Bradley Whitford, the play was an uproarious farce. And since Stephanie and I were such huge “West Wing” fans, we had to try the old stage door routine again. Whitford fans will be pleased to know that “Josh” is every bit as genuine, friendly and accommodating in real life as he is on the screen.

And so a long, wonderful, packed week in New York came to a close and I now find myself back in Washington D.C.. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't intimidated and even frightened by what is to come. But I am also hopeful...and inspired...and even excited. I have no idea what form or shape that future will take. I just know I have all the tools, support and love I need.

What I do with it it depends on me.

I cannot tell you how much credit for this accomplishment belong to my wife, Stephanie. She has been there for me through thick and thin, a year geographically removed from each other, financial ups and downs, endless classes and papers, ever more social events, and especially my all-too frequent uneven temperament. She has been a rock, even when--especially when--I didn't even realize how strong she was being for me. Thank you so, so much, schatz!


Anonymous Eric said...

Dammit I want to Meet Mr. Lyman!!!!

What does your friend do for Fox?

And, thanks for the video from the post...I was looking for that


3:55 PM  
Blogger Brandon said...

Right now she is a script supervisor for "Mad TV." She was on "Idol."

3:58 PM  
Blogger Grinth said...

I really can't put into words how much I can relate to much of what you comment on in regards to Film School, what was gained and what the future holds.

I, to, often find myself a bit unsure of what I ultimately want to do. I am also discovering this to be my biggest hurdle. Actually, it might be more accurate to say my biggest hurdle is my unwillingness to outright lie when it comes to what I want for my future. But that is a different story.

What I can agree whole heartedly with is the personal life experience gained from doing grad work in film. Those experiences are priceless. The people I met and the experiences I had are something I would not exchange, despite the financial cost attached to them.

11:38 PM  
Anonymous Calvin Wulf said...

OK, so the fork in the road you expected turns out to be a forest of choices. Well, run Brandon run! The one who began this work in you is faithful. Congratulations my friend. I am very proud of you.



11:24 AM  
Anonymous Jodi said...

you look fab !!!! I always knew you were smart, can't wait to see you on the red carpet and accepting your award for best screenplay, hope yah had a chance to see the city :) CONGRADULATIONS !!!!!!!!!! you so earned it and deserve it,

always a crazy gal, Jodi

10:54 AM  
Blogger nathan said...

A very belated congratulations, sir.

12:29 AM  
Blogger Brandon said...

Thank you Nate. Thank you all!

8:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That sounds like a fabulous way for you and Stephanie to have celebrated your graduation! = ) yay~

All the best to you as you start this first phase of your "new" journey!

Daria : )

7:02 PM  
Anonymous Gilly said...


8:11 PM  

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