“I am an artist. I always have been and always will be an artist in service because I am not my circumstances.”
This was part of the moving message famed photographer Xyza Cruz Bacani posted on her Facebook and Instagram for her graduation at the New York University.
Even without a college degree, Bacani earned her Master of Arts in Arts and Politics at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts on Wednesday, March 18.
She entered the esteemed university’s Master’s program through a scholarship.
On her graduation day, Bacani took to social media to express her gratitude to the university for taking “a chance” on her to enter their program despite the missing academic degree.
“I am a graduate of Masters in Arts and Politics at New York University. Even without a college degree, NYU took a chance on me. I am a scholar and grateful to people who paved the way for me to dream, who saw my potential and extended their generosity,” she said.
“I am in awe of your beauty and grace. I am grateful to my mama and papa, who taught me kindness and grit,” she added.
Bacani also attached photos of herself in a graduation gown. They were taken by her husband Nicholas Papananias.
With this milestone, Bacani, who is previously a domestic helper in Hong Kong, saw herself as an “artist in service” who tells stories about Filipino migrant workers like her through photos.
“I am an ancestor. As a storyteller in today’s world of uncertainty, I need to see myself as an ancestor rather than a descendant. It helps me make better decisions. I honor my ancestors by becoming one. I am an artist. I always have been and always will be an artist in service because I am not my circumstances,” she said.
She also described herself as a descendant of people “you don’t read about in history books.”
“I am a descendant. My ancestors are people you don’t read about in history books. They are unseen and unheard. We don’t have family inheritance except for the traumas passed on from one generation to another. I do not have photographs of them or any objects that will remind me of them,” she said.
Bacani said she is also “a product of trauma caused by a cycle of poverty.”
As a street and documentary photographer, Bacani is a recipient of several prestigious recognitions. These include being one of “BBC’s 100 Women of the World 2015,” “Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia 2016,” and a grantee of Pulitzer Center.
‘A humbling experience’
In an interview with ANCX, Bacani said that not having a college degree like the rest of her schoolmates was a challenge for her while studying.
“The most formidable challenge is the adjustment period. Not having a college degree entering the academic program means I have to work harder to keep up with the curriculum and my cohorts,” she was quoted as saying in the report.
Nevertheless, her time at NYU is a fun and humbling experience for the celebrated photographer.
“It is fun being part of TISCH. It is a humbling experience. The best moments are getting straight As on my grades and spending time with my cohorts and faculties. They are all accomplished people, and I have learned from their offerings,” Bacani said.
Amid her academic milestone, congratulatory messages poured in for Bacani.
“With attention in the Philippines on the graduation of Jillian Robredo from NYU, I would like to shine the spotlight on another extraordinary graduating Filipino NYU student and friend of ours,” Filipino-American biologist Michael Purunggan said on a Facebook post.
“In less than 10 years Xyza Cruz Bacani has gone from being a migrant OFW domestic worker to world-renowned photographer, with her photos gracing the NY Times and CNN, as well as galleries and museums around the world,” he added.
Purunggan also congratulated Jillian, the youngest daughter of Vice President Leni Robredo, who similarly graduated on Wednesday.