ABINGTON, Pa. — Thom Collins likely caught the graduates and guests at the Penn State Abington fall 2016 commencement off guard. They expected a keynote speaker, but Collins is a genuine Philly born and bred Renaissance man: a lifelong Eagles fan who leads of one of the world's top arts and educational institutions, the Barnes Foundation based in Philadelphia.
Collins, the grandson of immigrants and son of a high school teacher, learned the life-changing possibilities of work at a young age. And he illustrated his message for the audience that work can elevate the spirit, alleviate suffering, and eradicate prejudice by drawing on the life of artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres.
"What does the unusual career of an exceptional artist … have to do with me, with my career aspirations, and my larger life ambitions?" Collins said, acknowledging what the hundreds of graduates in the historic Keswick Theater may have been thinking.
"Felix Gonzalez-Torres ... committed himself to public service, he committed himself to the common good. He was one of the most influential and successful of his generation ... but he was first and foremost a worker who dedicated himself to problem-solving on behalf of his communities and to investigating social, political, and economic ills," he said.