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RISD To Confer 669 Degrees Saturday

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The Rhode Island School of Design celebrates commencement on Saturday at the convention center. At one point it appeared as though 666 students would...

The Rhode Island School of Design celebrates commencement on Saturday at the convention center. At one point it appeared as though 666 students would receive degrees, but the count has gone up to 669.

Either way, the number seems fitting for cult film director John Waters, who is scheduled to address the graduates. Waters is known for movies that push the boundaries of good taste.

RISD President Rosanne Somerson says RISD is known for quirky moments at commencement. Part of the university's tradition involves a unique take on the traditional black robe.

"Students are given gowns and asked to decorate them to sort of celebrate their experience at RISD," Somerson explained. "We never see them in advance, in fact some of them are probably still working on them, so we’re always surprised."

In the class of 2015, which is among the largest in RISD's history, Somerson sees a common thread. She told RIPR that many of the students chose to participate in a leadership program while at RISD.

"They are very interested in using their talent for social justice and for actually making positive change in the world, so it’s a very ethical and activist group of graduates," Somerson said.

Somerson, who just completed her first official academic year as RISD president, plans to address the graduates during commencement. Her message will include a plea for staying "naïve."

"Often with artists their curiosity and their desire to enter into some form of inquiry because of what they don’t know is what actually gets them to a new place," said Somerson.  "That's what defines innovation, and I think it’s important never to lose that."

Members of the band "The Talking Heads," who graduated from RISD, will receive honorary degrees during the ceremony along with New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik. 

Gopnik adressed graduate students at a hooding ceremony on Friday.

RISD To Confer 669 Degrees Saturday
RISD To Confer 669 Degrees Saturday