[Remarks from Head of School Jason Patera at Showcase; February 15, 2018]
Friends, it is an absolute honor and privilege to share this stage tonight with such incredible young artists.
Before I present the Faculty Legacy Award, I would like to acknowledge some of our guests tonight.
The Academy’s Board of Trustees is comprised of deeply invested individuals whose support, expertise, energy, and goodwill make possible a place like our school. To all of our Trustees past and present, we thank you.
We thank our Parents Association, whose enthusiasm for all things Academy is infectious.
We thank our tireless faculty and staff, who work miracles so often that they almost become routine.
We thank our philanthropic supporters. Your belief and confidence in this community—not only as a school, but as a critical Chicago arts institution—makes our work possible.
We thank Elaine Cohen and Arlen Ruben, Joe and Lisa Torres, an anonymous donor, and the Academy’s Parents Association, the sponsors of tonight’s event. They have all contributed enormously to ensure that we could produce a high-level event honoring Pat Rusk that is accessible to everyone in the community.
And, of course, we thank you—our parents, our alums, and our friends. You are the largest audience ever assembled for a Chicago Academy for the Arts event, and there’s nowhere else in the world we’d rather be than here with you right now.
I believe that the arts catalyze the three most important things in life: imagination, community, and joy.
Author Neil Gaiman writes “we have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that society is huge and the individual is nothing. But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, they make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.”
For nearly four decades, The Academy has been “home” to many hundreds of brilliant young people combining their capacity for imagination with a sense of purpose that has created a community that is the envy of schools across the country. Our students are not “at” The Academy, they “are” The Academy, and once they graduate, they have a responsibility to not look for communities, but to use their imagination and purpose to build them.
And finally, the arts bring us joy. Is there a more important pursuit than finding happiness for ourselves, and creating it for others? Scientist John Maeda writes, “the biggest breakthrough will not be curing disease and the daily problems of mankind, but the realization that the arts are the whole reason why we ever try to live longer or live more prosperously. The arts are the science of enjoying life.”
The work we present tonight matters. It matters because it tells the story of a school shooting at Columbine High School that happened before any of our students were born, and for whom such events are tragically routine. It matters because it explores race, and identity, and fear. It matters because it shows us what can happen when young people work intensely hard, together, and remind us of the power of collaboration. It matters because it evokes joy.
Tonight, we celebrate a legendary teacher who has sparked imagination, community, and joy in a manner that cannot be overstated.
Musical Theatre Chair Emeritus Patricia Rusk has been a cornerstone of the Academy community since 1997.
An elite pianist, Ms Rusk has been a professional musical force for decades, from performing in nearly every theater in Chicago, to touring the country in productions like A Chorus Line and Annie, and to gracing the stage — twice — at The Kennedy Center in Washington. Her skill at the piano is breathtaking, characterized by inhuman technique and a lifetime of repertoire always at her fingertips.
We may be tempted to describe Pat as a “virtuoso”, but the word “accompanist” is perhaps far more appropriate.
An accompanist, by definition, is rarely regarded as a featured performer, often seen as somehow being “less” of a pianist; “less” of an artist. But with Ms. Rusk, being an accompanist is so, so much more. For more than 20 years, Ms. Rusk has accompanied hundreds of students: not just musically, but on their journey through adolescence and well into adulthood, into the best selves they can be.
Pat Rusk is not “just” a teacher, but an extraordinary mentor who routinely transforms the artistry of singers and actors.
She is not “just” a musical director, but a collaborator who can relate to students as one artist working with another.
And she is not “just” a former department chair, but a friend who continues to be a source of wisdom, care, and happiness for two decades of alums.
Tonight, we dedicate two new scholarships in Ms. Rusk’s honor, supporting passionate young artists who might otherwise not have access to The Academy.
We have an inscription that expresses our gratitude for her “contribution to our mission, culture, and community”. And I have a letter from Mayor Rahm Emanuel not only proclaiming today to be “Patricia Rusk Day” in Chicago, but thanking her for her “legacy of distinguished service and leadership in the classroom and beyond”. We have a check for her, a no-strings-attached grant as the smallest of gestures in acknowledgement of a career of service that can never be adequately valued in dollars.
And while she has always had our love and respect, right now we have the opportunity to give her our applause.
Friends, on behalf of the entire Chicago Academy for the Arts community, I am thrilled to present the 2018 Faculty Legacy Award to Ms. Patricia Rusk.