Award-Winning Writer, Director and Artist John Waters to Speak at SVA’s 2020 Virtual Commencement Exercises
May 7, 2020 by Maeri Ferguson
A photograph of John Waters wearing a green suit and red glasses

John Waters

Credit: Greg Gorman

WATCH THE STREAM: The ceremony will be streamed at 1:00pm ET on Wednesday, May 27, on sva.edu/commencement, and on Facebook Live: facebook.com/SchoolOfVisualArts.


SVA is pleased to announce that award-winning writer, director, artist and cult icon John Waters will be the keynote speaker at the College’s 45th annual commencement exercises, which will be held virtually. The ceremony will be streamed at 1:00pm on Wednesday, May 27, on sva.edu/commencement, and on Facebook Live: facebook.com/SchoolOfVisualArts. SVA President David Rhodes will recognize some 1,280 degree candidates from the College’s 31 undergraduate and graduate programs.


John Waters has been a singular voice, tastemaker and boundary-pusher in pop culture since the 1970s. A prolific filmmaker, writer, photographer and actor, he has written and directed 16 films, authored nine books, and exhibited his work in galleries all over the world. Waters has become synonymous with his hometown of Baltimore, hailing it as the “hairdo capital of the world.” He has paid tribute to this characterization with films like Cry-Baby, Hairspray, Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble and Polyester, and with his tight-knit community of local performers, including Divine and Mink Stole. Waters has won honors from Provincetown International Film Festival, Film Society of Lincoln Center, the British Film Institute and the Writers Guild of America. He has appeared in countless television shows and movies, including Ryan Murphy’s Feud and Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild. His one-man shows have played to crowds at Bonnaroo, Coachella and the Sydney Opera House.


As a writer, Waters has earned spots on the best-seller lists in the The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle for his 2010 book Role Models and his 2014 book Carsick, which, along with his 2019 best-selling book Mr. Know-It-All, The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder, earned a Grammy nomination for its audio-book recording. His 2017 book Make Trouble was also released as an audio album by Jack White’s Third Man Records.


Waters’ photography has been shown in galleries and institutions all over the world for nearly 30 years, including at The New Museum of Contemporary Art and Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York, Fotomuseum Winterthur and de Pury & Luxembourg Gallery in Switzerland, Sprueth Magers Gallery in London and The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Multiple catalogues of his work have been published, and most recently he exhibited a traveling retrospective show, “Indecent Exposure,” in 2018 and 2019.


As the keynote speaker for SVA’s commencement exercises, Waters will join a distinguished group of leaders in the arts, humanities and public service, including musician and poet Patti Smith, activist and author Gloria Steinem, U.S. Congressman and civil-rights hero John Lewis, cultural critic Greil Marcus, artists Laurie Anderson and Carrie Mae Weems, playwrights Edward Albee and Tony Kushner, and historian Robert A. Caro.