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Kanye West’s Honorary Doctorate Speech Was Basically What You’d Expect

“I am a pop artist. So my medium is public opinion. And the world is my canvas.”

Kanye West speaks at SAIC’s 2015 commencement ceremonies on May 11, 2015   Photo: Whet Moser

In case you were at the School of the Art Institute commencement today and wondered who Kanye West was, or why a rapper/producer/rookie fashion designer was accepting an honorary doctorate by swiping all the bottles of water from the podium—"sorry, that was my opinion,” West nervously joked about his brief foray into performance art—well, he made it clear why he should be there.

“I am a pop artist. So my medium is public opinion. And the world is my canvas.”

SAIC faculty member Nick Cave introduced West. It was an appropriate choice: The director of the graduate fashion program at the school, Cave is famous for his Soundsuits—elaborate and colorful pop-art constructions that come at music through the medium of fashion. “Using art as a vehicle, he has become an art mogul,” Cave said. “A change agent, receiving information, transmitting information. Kanye West steps onto the platform of ‘what if.’ His goal is to paint with sound; sculpt with fashion.”

College dropout no more, apparently. Photo: Whet Moser

What followed was trademark Kanye West, briefly distilled into commencement form: genuine humility, awkwardness even, clashing with luminous self-regard, the stuff of his albums brought onto the august stage of the Auditorium Theatre. Listen here:

Humility? Actually, yeah. “I felt my nerves a bit,” West said. “And I don’t feel that feeling a lot. The nerves, and modesty, with being honored. A humanization, a reality, of being recognized.”

Which lasted about another 15 seconds. “And all I thought, as I sit here, kind of shaking a little bit, is… I need to get rid of that feeling,” West continued. “I need to not be nervous. This honor is gonna make your lives easier. Two reasons. You don’t have to defend me as much. And I’m going to make all of our lives easier.”

He showed a little humility—for a second. Photo: Whet Moser

And then the catalogue of ships. “And it’s these Floyd Mayweather belts that are needed, to prove what I’ve been saying my entire life. Whether it’s the co-sign of Paul McCartney grabbing me and saying, it’s okay, he doesn’t bite white people, or the New York Times [magazine] cover, or the Time ‘Most Influential’ cover. And now, a doctorate, at the Art Institute of Chicago. When I was giving a lecture at Oxford, I brought up this school, because when I went on that mission to create in other spaces, it would have been easier if I could have said, ‘I have a degree from the Art Institute of Chicago.’ Thank you.”

And that was that. Need more inspiration for their life, their souls, and their songs? Sorry, Dr. West is gone.

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