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June 5, 2018

Pomp And Circumstance: An MSG Tradition

Graduation season is here, once again bringing The Madison Square Garden Company together with schools across New York City.

The elegance of the Beacon Theatre on Graduation Day. Commencements at MSG's venues is a tradition dating back generations.

On Commencement Day, Debbie and Jared Kelner, already swelled with emotion, passed into the Grand Foyer at Radio City Music Hall and stared up toward the vaulted gold-leaf ceiling. Entering the theater, they took in the yawning arches overhead, and almost as one both let out a small “wow.”

Nearby, graduates from the School of Visual Arts streamed in, their caps and gowns forming a blanket of cherry red. The Kelners’ daughter, Tori, was in there somewhere among more than 1,000 classmates, all of them now part of a longstanding Madison Square Garden Company tradition. In ceremonies stretching into July, this year 19 colleges and universities will hold their graduation at Radio City Music Hall, and at the Beacon Theatre and The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden.

For the schools, including New York University, Pace University, Hunter College and the Fashion Institute of Technology, these settings provide an opportunity to celebrate in spacious, iconic surroundings. In turn, MSG has the chance to showcase its venues in a different light and create a bond with families in a uniquely personal way.

These occasions can turn even low-key parents into paparazzi, and at the recent School of Visual Arts graduation, Radio City Music Hall glittered with flashing cameras. The backdrop held special meaning to a class filled with painters, illustrators and graphic artists, who found themselves drawn to the proscenium arches framing the Great Stage, the fabric silhouettes on the walls and the Art Deco flourishes.


A group selfie for the memory album. Tori Kelner is flanked by her proud parents, Jared and Debbie. Tori’s boyfriend, Shawn Cavalieri (l), and her older brother, Jacob, complete the portrait in front of a classic backdrop.

“Beautiful In A Different Way”

Lydia Kassinos appreciated the architecture, saying it somehow made a big space “feel homey.” Having seen the Decemberists and Sigur Ros in concert, this was her third visit to Radio City Music Hall.

Sabrina Puppin, from Venice, Italy, was seized, she said, by a sense of history. At 57 and receiving a master’s degree, she was one of the older graduates.

“I’m thinking now,” she said, “of all the artists from all over who have wanted to be here and perform here. It’s an honor to walk on this stage.”

Some in the audience, like Linda Simon, whose niece was graduating, carry a strong emotional tie to the theater’s past. In the 1950s, she said, her father struggled to make a living as a baker in the Bronx. But he managed to bring her to Radio City Music Hall to see the crooner, Robert Goulet, a family favorite. 

In all, roughly 5,000 of Radio City Music Hall’s nearly 6,000 seats were filled by graduates and their families. For the Kelners, from East Brunswick, N.J., this was their first visit. Debbie Kelner said their son had graduated from Elon University in North Carolina outdoors, surrounded by oak trees.

“That was beautiful,” she said. “And this is beautiful in a different way.”

The Kelners’ daughter, Tori, who already has a going business as a wedding photographer, was seated in the back of the orchestra section waiting for her name to be called. She said it was fitting that Maya Lin, the renowned designer and architect, was the featured speaker. And she was equally excited to learn that Britney Spears would be performing there in July.

“I have to come back for that,” she said. “I can say I was on the same stage as Britney.”

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About The Madison Square Garden Company

The Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) is a world leader in live sports and entertainment experiences. The company presents or hosts a broad array of premier events in its diverse collection of iconic venues: New York’s Madison Square Garden, Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall and Beacon Theatre; the Forum in Inglewood, CA; The Chicago Theatre; and the Wang Theatre in Boston. Other MSG properties include legendary sports franchises: the New York Knicks (NBA), the New York Rangers (NHL) and the New York Liberty (WNBA); two development league teams – the Westchester Knicks (NBAGL) and the Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL); and esports teams through Counter Logic Gaming, a leading North American esports organization, and Knicks Gaming, MSG’s NBA 2K League franchise. In addition, the Company features the popular original production – the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes – and through Boston Calling Events, produces New England’s preeminent Boston Calling Music Festival. Also under the MSG umbrella is TAO Group, a world-class hospitality group with globally-recognized entertainment dining and nightlife brands: Tao, Marquee, Lavo, Avenue, Beauty & Essex and Vandal. More information is available at