The following introduction of Nathaniel Mary Quinn ’96 was given by Head of Schools Dr. Jim Power. Power presented Quinn as an honorary member for induction into the Cum Laude Society. After his induction, Quin spoke to the Commencement Convocation audience. To hear his speech, click on the Sound Cloud link below.
Unlike a college or university, Culver cannot recognize distinguished achievement by granting honorary degrees. The Academies can, and do, recognize such achievement, however, by bestowing honorary membership in the Cum Laude Society.
Each year the Culver Chapter traditionally nominates outstanding people for this singular recognition. Today we are privileged to present to the Class of 2017 an outstanding gentlemen who went before you at Culver Academies and who is more than worthy of your respect and your emulation because through dedication and personal commitment, he has brought great distinction to himself and great service to society.
By vote of the faculty members of the Cum Laude Society, we present for honorary membership in the Culver Chapter, Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Culver Class of 1996.
You will hear from Mr. Quinn himself, but first a quick thought exercise.
Think about all the times you went home during your time here. Let’s say one of those times, when you got there, there was no one there. No furniture is there, either. In fact, the door isn’t even shut. What do you do? In those first few minutes? In a couple hours? Weeks later? Years later?
Would you picture yourself back at Culver, as a student? Would you even imagine that you would finish school in that situation? And would you imagine yourself with a successful ability to make art? And teaching others as well?
That is the situation Mr. Quinn found himself in just a few short months into his first year at Culver, when at Thanksgiving he returned to his home in the Robert Taylor Project where he lived to find, unbeknownst to him, was no longer his home. All this occurred shortly after the death of his mother. His father and the rest of his family had simply left. He hasn’t seen them since.
But Nate did have a home in the Band for four years and he found himself where you are now in 1996. After Culver, he made his home at Wabash College, where he received his bachelor’s degree, and two years after that, earned his Master in Fine Arts at New York University.
He taught at-risk students from his new home in Bedford-Stuyvesant, in Brooklyn. And he continued to make art.
Things weren’t perfect for Nathaniel come graduation day, though. There were abandonment issues, anger and pain. But Nate worked to help himself even as he was helping others.
He married. Let me recognize your wife of 7 years, Donna, who is with us today.
And he continued to work on his art.
As the story goes, Nate had an opportunity to show some art at the home of the mother of one of his students. He was contracted for five pieces, but he only had four. He worked feverishly in literally the final hours before he was to arrive and produced a piece that he discovered during the process of creation was inspired by his brother. He called the piece “Charles.”
“Charles” was a sensation that day, and interest only grew. He has pieces that are in the permanent collections in galleries and museums around the world, including nearby at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Pace Gallery in London, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, in the private collections of patrons from around the world, and even one, an early self portrait, in the permanent collection of the Culver Educational Foundation. His work has been reviewed in numerous publications, including the New York Times, The Independent (London), The New York Times, and the Huffington Post.
He now occupies that rare sweet spot where his livelihood is what he wants to do, rather than just what he has to do.
Your works are often hybrid, fractured portraits on paper and linen using charcoal, gouache, pastel, paint stick, and oil paint. He balances the beautiful with the grotesque, the sinister with the benevolent, capturing the complexity of human emotion in a way that is individual and also representative of the human condition.
It’s impossible to overstate the depth of Nate’s personal resolve, inner strength and character. He signs each of his pieces on the back, Nathaniel Mary Quinn, honoring the memory of his late mother, Mary.
Once again, imagine ourselves in a scenario I posed earlier. It’s hard to know what you would do. In Nate, I present to you an example of finding your path out of adversity.
The Cum Laude Society has honored alumni in this manner for over 80 years and among those honorees have been world renowned big band leaders, cancer researchers, award winning journalists, female business pioneers, Pulitzer Prize winning authors, Tony Award winning playwrights, ambassadors, and even a World War I aviation ace. Nate Quinn adds lustre to this group. And for all that, we proudly welcome him into the Culver chapter of the Cum Laude Society.