Mary DiSanto-Rose: Address to Commencement

May 20, 2012

I am thrilled and honored and also humbled to be here today to share this momentous occasion with the amazing class of 2012. As you have heard in my introduction I sat where you are today only a few years ago!! I was just as nervous, confused and also excited, as you must be today. I would like to share my story in the hopes it might inspire you to pursue your dreams and give you the courage to do so!

I am an only child and I came to St. Lawrence passionate about Dance but wanted to see what else was going on in the world out side of the dance studio and the stage. It was also clear that in our culture the opportunities in the Dance World were very limited and the profession had little prestige. How would I support myself? Thus, I let go of my passion and explored other avenues.

As a first-year student I lived in Carnegie Hall, which was a dorm at that time, with three other roommates from diverse backgrounds. How in the world were the four of us going to share this small living space? Somehow we found a way and we laughed, cried, and learned a great deal during our late night talks and navigating through our classes.

When it came time to select a major I chose chemistry in hopes of going on into medicine. The medical field was a place where I felt I could help people. The lab work was challenging and yes tedious and time consuming. But in many ways the lab was similar to the dance studio. I needed patience and discipline. I had to practice my craft every day to achieve positive results. I also found I enjoy chemistry because it was like solving a puzzle. The faculty was amazing and they helped us decipher the many complex puzzles we encountered. I enjoyed the challenges.

After graduation I was offered a job here at St. Lawrence in the Admissions Office. I thought this would be a good transition before I moved on to medical school. I traveled far and wide and visited high schools around the country. I spoke with prospective students about the amazing academic and personal growth I had experienced at St. Lawrence. During the two years I worked as an Admissions Counselor I also had time to reflect and I struggled with where to go from here.

I had the opportunity to also volunteer in a hospital. I found it rewarding but very overwhelming. I asked myself, can I deal with illness and work with people in pain every day?

I came to realize I truly missed dancing. My body yearned to be back in the dance studio, to feel the sweat dripping off of me. I even missed the muscle aches and pains. I wanted to feel and express through my body again. I wanted to concentrate on the curve of the neck, the placement of my wrist. I wanted to train my muscles even those in my eyes to focus and be expressive. I wanted to feel the earth under my feet and understand how my feet created the foundation for my knees, and hips, as well as my ribs, shoulders, neck and head. And when all aligned I could create powerful movement and when they were not aligned I could injure myself.

I missed riding the train into New York City every day to take class. And like an athlete I missed the toil and hard work that helped me better understand my body/mind connections. I longed to collaborate with other dancers and choreographers to create works of art that spoke to the audience about beauty, love, anger, frustrations, and dreams.

While working in admissions at St. Lawrence I had the opportunity to teach some dance classes. I also had the good fortune to bring some marvelous guest artists to campus to perform and teach. However, after almost a 4 year hiatus I didn't think there was anyway I could go back into the field and make dance my profession. But some how I trusted the people around me and they encouraged me to audition and apply to graduate school in dance.

I realized that I had told my friends and family I was going to be a doctor rather than a dancer. What would they think about this change of heart? And what about my parents? They had invested so much into my chemistry degree. I was very nervous when I had to talk with them about my dilemma. Amazingly they turned to me and said "You know you can keep people healthy through Dance." I am forever grateful for their understanding of who I am.

So I didn’t move on those medical school applications. Instead, I immersed myself back into the Dance World. Well here I am still dancing, teaching dance at a similar, fabulous Liberal Arts College and sharing my love and passion for dance with you today.

I also want to share with you the wisdom my career in dance has brought to me. When you are fully grounded in your body you can trust yourself, you can trust others, you can trust the world. When you go into your body and move you are more present, you are more grounded. Those of you who work-out and move regularly know this. The mind works with the body instead of above it or beyond it. Life becomes more real, more whole.

I want to give you all the opportunity to experience that now with me. I ask you, if you are willing, to join me and integrate your body with your mind in performing a “Tanagra”, a movement study. This movement study will focus on three things I feel will help us all on life’s journey; the value of being grounded; being flexible and being connected.

Please help me demonstrate this by standing up.

First take a deep breath in, this helps to expand our hearts.

Stamp your feet and feel the stability of the earth. Now imagine you can send roots into this amazing planet and ground yourself. You can stand on your own two feet!

Cross your arms around your waist and give yourselves a big hug. Class of 2012 you deserve it you have worked hard to get to where you are today. Also your remarkable faculty and staff, who have helped you successfully, arrive here, certainly have earned a warm hug as do your family and friends.

Now everyone with your arms remaining crossed reach out to the person on each side of you and gently take their hand. Recognize there will always be people around you ready to support, guide and encourage you in your endeavors.

Slowly raise your arms up together and allow your hands to release and open to the world around you. Twist and bend to the right and to the left to see all that is around you. You will need to be flexible in this fast passed changing world. Absorb the beauty of the sky, trees and all of nature.

Slowly lower your arms and look into your hands. Realize it is up to you to care for this natural world.

Bring your hands into your chest and go deep inside yourself, close your eyes. Take a moment to find one thing that you are grateful for, a person or an experience. See it clearly in your minds eye. Now take that gratitude as you breathe in and out and extend it out towards those around you, and then send your gratitude further to those family and friends who are not here with us today. As you breathe in and out deeply imagine your gratitude as a brilliant glowing light radiating outward. Extend it even further until it touches every living creature on our Earth.

Without crossing your arms this time, reach out to your neighbor on both sides of you. Take their hand and allow your arms to rise again together as a community. Let your feet dance on the earth and now ground them into the earth. Class of 2012 go forth grounded in your passions; flexible in this ever changing world; and connected with those around you.

<>May your dance be a joyous one!


Thank you, thank you!