Creating a New Normal

Thursday, Jun 11, 2020
By Jalen Coleman
Juilliard Journal
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Actor Jalen Coleman in the midst of performance
Jalen Coleman as P-Sam in Juilliard's production of Dominique Morisseau's 'Paradise Blue'

Commencement 2020

This entry in a series of profiles of Juilliard Commencement experiences is by graduating actor Jalen Coleman, a member of Group 49.

Screenshot of Dean Ara Guzelimian and Jalen Coleman
As part of this year's virtual commencement ceremony, Provost and Dean Ara Guzelimian presented Jalen Coleman with one of three Joseph W. Polisi Prizes "for exemplifying Juilliard’s values of the 'artist as citizen.'"

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Screenshot from the Drama Division's departmental graduation ceremony
Clockwise from top left, Evan Yionoulis, Kathy Hood, Jalen Coleman, and Richard Feldman

As time passed, even though the global situation was getting more and more helpless, my classmates, teachers, and Juilliard community were getting closer and closer. Who would’ve thought that virtual classes and performances would actually be very effective? Or that I would actually miss my packed schedule?

Jalen and a family member celebrating commencement at home
Jalen and his mom, Alicia Coleman, celebrating at home on Commencement day

I winced at the idea of a virtual graduation. I am the first in my family to graduate from college, so I particularly took that news hard, but graduation ended up being exponentially better than a regular ceremony could have been. They had videos of alumni wishing us luck, our favorite poems, and everyone got to watch rather than our having just two guests. You could tell the teachers and staff put a lot of love into it because they wanted us to feel seen in this crisis.

Looking back, I am so grateful for this school and this community. The joy I am finding now is not coming from the work I’m doing but from the memories I had the privilege to make.

Life hits us with these bombshells all the time, and even in this crisis, we are finding joy, peace, and healing in the things that really matter.

People keep talking about “going back to normal,” but the truth is that I do not want to return to normal. We did not appreciate each other nearly as much as we do now. I’m excited to create a new normal, and none of us know what that will look like. In some ways, that is very exciting to me. People are changing, and it is gonna be a tough next few decades, but I am at peace knowing that change is happening.