2021 DTA Medal

Medal design by Qingying Wang, BFA Jewelry ’21

Heather Horton

Distinguished Teacher 2021–22

Heather Horton is a specialist in Medieval and Renaissance Europe, with particular emphasis on the relationship between art, language, and cultural memory. These themes converge in her scholarship on the Renaissance polymath Leon Battista Alberti.

Horton joined the History of Art and Design Department in 2011, teaching courses that emphasize the long history of contemporary ideas. Her efforts to teach Introductory courses that are meaningful in today’s culture and to Pratt students prompted her current scholarly project as the co-editor of a two-volume introductory text (Art and Its Histories, forthcoming spring 2022). She is also the author of numerous chapters, covering cultures from about 1000 to 1600. As an author and editor, Horton’s work emphasizes global connectivity alongside in-depth exploration of historic artistic practices.

At Pratt, Horton has collaborated with colleagues across the Institute to foster inclusive pedagogy. She is especially proud of her work with the Student Learning Community program since 2013.

Address to Graduates

View Prof. Horton’s video address, part of the Celebration of the Class of 2021.


Congratulations to the class of 2021.

Congratulations as well to the loved ones you are sharing this day with.

I know this is not the graduation day you imagined. It is important to acknowledge that. We all feel a longing to be together, in the same space, again.

About a year ago, when I realized that I would be spending more than just a few weeks in a small New York City apartment with my husband, 3-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son, we made a sign together with a message to guide us through difficult days. It read: “Happiness is not for some day; it is for today.” I worried that as we coped with everything that must be coped with, we might forget to celebrate our joys—a fourth birthday, a difficult project completed.

Even though this graduation day is different than you imagined: this is the day you have worked for; this is the day you have earned; and this is the day we celebrate.

Happiness is for today.

I am honored to receive the Distinguished Teacher Award for 2021. Thank you to the students, the Academic Senate, the administration, and the Board of Trustees for conferring this recognition. Pratt is a community of distinguished, dedicated teachers and I am so proud to be a part of it.

By training, I am a historian of art and design, which means that I look at objects and spaces trying to understand what they can tell us about the times when they were made and the people who valued them. One of the historian’s biggest challenges is to stand in the moment when the outcome is not settled, when anything might have happened.

I cannot help but wonder how a Pratt diploma from 2021 might look to someone 100 years from now. Imagine a person coming across that paper—in an archive or in the top of a closet. They might notice the year and hopefully they would pause to contemplate the perseverance and ingenuity required to earn a degree in 2021.

Could they imagine a student waking up in the middle of the night in Seoul, South Korea to join a class discussion with a professor half a world away?

Could they imagine how an entire campus community could reconstitute itself in the ether, learning and caring for each other from little boxes on Zoom?

Could the future historian understand that none of us—student or professor—had done this before, but that we have all grown into stronger thinkers and makers together?

I hope that you will have a chance today to reflect on the things you have done this year that you might not have believed possible even one year ago.

Finally, there is talk in the air these days about ‘getting back to normal.’ But this phrasing is not quite right. Time moves in just one direction; there is no going back. After a challenging, inspiring year of protests and revelations about our society and ourselves, I don’t think any of us long for whatever ‘normal’ was in 2019.

Just like today, the day after your graduation will likely not look the way you once imagined, nor the months and years and decades that follow.

Maybe that’s okay.

Maybe that’s wonderful—literally an opportunity for wonder.

Maybe this unexpected, unpredictable ‘next’ is exactly what you’ve been preparing for during your time at Pratt.

Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this day. I hope that it is not too presumptuous to speak for the faculty at large and thank you—our students—for the energy, kindness, and intelligence you have shared with us, especially over the last year.

We can’t wait to see what you do next.