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The Whitney Museum of American Art: Dedication Ceremony (A Student's Perspective)

Authored By: 
Holly Russo, Class of 2015

Backstage, the motley lot of us huddled together in an attempt to calm our nerves. As participants in the Whitney Museum’s Youth Insights Teen Leadership program, it’s not a rare occurrence to find ourselves nervously awaiting a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We were all intently focused on a small cell phone screen that was playing the live stream of the dedication as we awaited our turn to take the stage as part of the ribbon cutting performance. We listened to First Lady Michelle Obama, as she stood at the podium only mere feet away, speak specifically about our program and the positive impact it was having on teens. It was surreal to hear her quote a few of my fellow teen-leaders as she explained how important it is to make all teens feel comfortable in the art world, regardless of where they come from. We glanced at each other with nervous and excited eyes, and, as she spoke, I couldn’t help but feel like we were a part of something important.

Just then the audience began clapping as the First Lady concluded her speech and we were called to get into our order backstage: it was time to go out. The faces of the actors of the Wooster Group that had seemed so unfamiliar only days before were now a familiar and comforting force as they told us to “break a leg.” We took deep breaths as we hoped that what we learned in the rehearsals that the actors so welcomingly included us in would come back to us now. Then the first in line began walking and soon we were stepping onto the outdoor platform that was acting as our stage. Mrs. Obama sat only a few feet away and she warmly waved to us as we entered. There was a large crowd present of nearly 400 dignified guests, and we felt the weight of their eyes upon us. Once the professional actors began their roles we all got comfortable in ours as background actors. I couldn’t stop smiling as I looked into the audience to see my supervisor eagerly waving to us and I knew that this would be a moment to remember.

Beekman senior Holly Russo has been at the Whitney Museum since Fall 2013, first as a participant in their Youth Insights Artist program and later accepted into the Leadership program.  This past fall, a group of Beekman students and teachers attended a special tour, led by Holly, through the Jeff Koons exhibit.  Holly recently had the opportunity to be a part of the dedication ceremony for the new downtown Whitney space, and she credits the Beekman community (particularly English and Art History teacher Michelle Koza) with providing the support and flexibility to do well academically while pursuing her passion.  She’ll be attending Fordham University next year.



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