Behind me thunderclouds rose, blotting out the sun over the courtyard. Wind pushed the first raindrops of a summer storm onto the crowd where everyone clutched umbrellas and purses ready to make a break from their folding chairs for someplace dry. We’d hurried through the final reading of names for the cords our graduates would wear at commencement, our pace picking up as gray replaced blue in the sky. I’m told ACMA’s Senior Awards assembly has never gotten rained out; today was as close as I ever want to get. And…
Looking out over the students, staff, and families, I couldn’t just say run for shelter. I had one more award.
I know in the rush of raindrops I had to hurry my story, and, a sucker for saying things right, I thought I’d give it another go here for anyone preoccupied with getting into the Quonset Hut for pizza or back under a breezeway to get out of the rain.
Because the story of that last award, while not exactly ACMA, is as ACMA as anything I know.
In 1950, I told the crowd, a little boy came to school at this campus. He was in third grade, and he liked learning and being creative. He washed dishes in the cafeteria downstairs to earn lunch, was learning how to play trumpet, and liked his teachers. But life for a creative soul in the middle of the last century wasn’t always an easy road to travel, even for an eight year old. Almost seventy years later he told me about his experience, saying “I still remember distinctly the art teacher disapproving of my green bunny rabbit in the third grade–there went my career as a visual artist!”
That was far from the end of the story.
Because young Morten Lauridsen may have stepped away from visual art, but he threw himself into making art, specifically music, that has changed the world. As a result, this boy from C.E. Mason Elementary has been described as an icon among choral composers. His works have been nominated for Grammy Awards, earned him a National Medal of Arts, and are performed across the United States and the world more often than just about any living choral composer. He did not let the forces of conformity surrounding him break his spirit. He used his inner strength, creativity, passion, and purpose to carve an artistic life.
Today at ACMA we encourage green bunnies, and all sorts of creativity, and I like to think that the young Morten Lauridsens who walk our halls feel supported and will have different kinds of memories seventy years from now.
That spirit of artistic spirit is alive and well in our little art school, and when I decided on The Green Bunny Award the first thing I did was go to two of our senior artists to ask if they’d each come up with an image for the certificate. Amazing as they are, I had two exquisite green bunnies on my desk by the next week. What would Morten Lauridsen’s teacher think?
Truth be told, I cared less about her opinion than his, and I sent a copy of the certificate to the composer with a note of thanks for his inspiration. Gracious as he is, his reply showed the spirit I hoped to celebrate with The Green Bunny Award. “I am very tickled and honored with this news about the Green Bunny Award,” he said. “Ranks right up there with the National Medal of Arts!”
Back to that growing rainstorm.
I’m told someone saw lightning. I heard thunder, but had my attention on sixty seconds it would take me to say what I could. This year’s winner was a filmmaker and leader of his class who spent countless hours researching the history of our school, collaborating with peers enthusiastically and often, and showing that same Lauridsenian spirit that says art (and a bit of tenacity) can overcome any obstacle.
Just the week before, other members of his graduating class had approached me and asked if there was some special award I could give him.
There was, and it had green bunnies.