North Carolina School of the Arts with Logo
School of Dance School of Design and Production School of Dance School of Filmmaking School of Music Visual Arts Academic Programs Student Life Vistors' Center apply search NCSA Home
About NCSAMaps and DirectionsAbout UNC and Winston-SalemContact Us
Quick Links Navigation
 Visitors' Center







Murphy also receives honorary doctorate from alma mater


One of the brightest stars in ballet today, University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) alumna Gillian Murphy told the 127 UNCSA high school graduates in dance, drama, music and visual arts on the morning of Saturday, May 17: “Be daring in your art, be compassionate in your life, and be true to yourself.”


Gillian Murphy evokes laughter from the students and platform party.


Interim Chancellor James Moeser presided over the commencement ceremonies, held on the stage of UNCSA’s Stevens Center in downtown Winston-Salem, as a packed house of family and friends snapped photos and captured videos. “This is also my commencement from UNCSA,” he said, referring to his approaching last day (June 30) in the post in which he has received great praise. “I will continue to follow you. I will always be a Pickle,” he added, referring to UNCSA’s mascot, the Fighting Pickle(s).

Moeser and Board of Trustees Chair Robert L. “Rob” King III presented Murphy with an honorary doctorate during the high school commencement ceremonies, held on the stage of UNCSA’s Stevens Center in downtown Winston-Salem.

Murphy said the two stages on which she feels the most at home are the Stevens Center, where she danced as a student and as an alumnus in The Nutcracker and many other performances, and the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center, home to American Ballet Theatre.

Murphy dedicated her remarks to the late Melissa Hayden, the legendary ballerina who coached and trained her while she was a student in the School of Dance at NCSA, and to the late Elena Shapiro, who graduated from the School of the Arts and went on to dance with Carolina Ballet in Raleigh.

Murphy graduated from the high school program of the then-North Carolina School of the Arts (NCSA) School of Dance in 1996. She has been with American Ballet Theatre since that year, first in the corps de ballet, then as a soloist, and as a principal dancer since 2002.

“Eighteen years ago I sat where you are sitting – possibly when some of your were being born,” Murphy said to the graduates.

She started off by quoting from some of her fiancé’s initiatives when he was dean of the UNCSA School of Dance: “embrace any challenge put before us” and “reach your full potential while helping others reach theirs.” Former Dean of Dance Ethan Stiefel was known for the initiatives he brought to the School of Dance, under the motto, “We Will!”

Murphy continued by imparting some of her own advice to the new graduates.  

  • “You will make new friends, but you will really miss the ones you made here. … always make an effort to stay in touch … with all your fellow Pickles.”
  • “To the introverts … like me, be aware when you’re stuck in your own head (and) make an effort to be more social.” To the extroverts, she said, “thank you for the entertainment … and don’t write off the quiet ones.”
  • “Don’t let the perfect be an enemy of the good.”
  • “Luck will play a role in your lives. Stay prepared and remain optimistic.”

UNCSA School of Dance Dean Susan Jaffe paid tribute to Murphy during the advice she gave to the School of Dance Class of 2014. “I was fortunate to work with her at ABT for two years,” Jaffe said.

“She never stops working hard,” Jaffe said. “She knows herself deeply. She believes she can always be better. She is sincerely and deeply humble. She is kind and generous … to her colleagues. She never cuts corners. … She does not feel or act entitled. She is always willing to be of help.” These were but a few of the characteristics that she attributed to Murphy, but also are characteristics of successful people, Jaffe said.

Read Gillian Murphy's full remarks.

Also at high school commencement, Ladies in Arts graduation speech contest winner Betsy Mann delivered her remarks.


About Gillian Murphy

Raised in Florence, S.C., Gillian Murphy began her ballet training at the age of three in Belgium and continued her ballet classes at the age of five in South Carolina.

After training in South Carolina as a member of the Columbia City Ballet, she continued her studies at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.  Under the tutelage of Melissa Hayden, she danced principal roles in several of the school’s ballet productions including The Nutcracker and George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco, Western Symphony, Tarantella and Theme and Variations.

In 1994, at the age of 15, Murphy was a finalist at the Jackson International Ballet Competition.  In 1995, she was awarded the Prix de Lausanne Espoir after performing the final round at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow.  In 1996, she was a National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts Level I awardee.  In 1998, she was honored with a Princess Grace Foundation-USA grant.  The Princess Grace Foundation awarded her its highest honor, the Statue Award, in 2009.

Murphy has appeared as a guest artist around the world, including Japan, Mexico, Chile, Greece, Germany, Italy, Canada and throughout the United States.  She made her debut with the Mariinsky Ballet in March 2008, dancing Odette-Odile in Swan Lake. Other guest appearances include dancing with the Royal Swedish Ballet, the Kiev Ballet, the Staatsballett Berlin, and in the world premiere of a new production of The Nutcracker, directed and choreographed by Ethan Stiefel for the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. In 2012, Murphy became principal guest artist at the Royal New Zealand Ballet where she danced the title character in Giselle and leading roles in Balanchine’s Who Cares?, Andrew Simmons’ Of Days, and Stiefel’s Bierhalle.

Murphy joined American Ballet Theatre as a member of the corps de ballet in August 1996, was promoted to soloist in 1999 and principal dancer in 2002.  Her repertoire with the Company includes Nikiya and Gamzatti in La Bayadère, the Ballerina in The Bright Stream, Cinderella in Cinderella, Swanilda in Coppélia, Medora and Gulnare in Le Corsaire, Kitri in Don Quixote, Titania in The Dream, the Accused in Fall River Legend, the second girl in Fancy Free, Lise in La Fille mal gardée, the pas de deux Flames of Paris, Grand Pas Classique, Myrta in Giselle, the Queen of Hearts in Jeu de Cartes, Known by Heart pas de deux, Manon in Lady of the Camellias, Lescaut’s Mistress in Manon, the Sugar Plum Fairy in Kevin McKenzie’s The Nutcracker, Desdemona in Othello, Other Dances, Hagar in Pillar of Fire, Raymonda in Raymonda, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet (Romeo’s Farewell to Juliet), Princess Aurora and the Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty, Odette-Odile in Swan Lake, Sylvia in Sylvia, the first and third movements in Symphony in C, the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, the ballerina in Theme and Variations, and leading roles in Allegro Brillante, Bach Partita, Ballet Imperial, Ballo della Regina, Baroque Game, Birthday Offering, Paul Taylor’s Black Tuesday, The Brahms-Haydn Variations, Clear, Désir, Diversion of Angels, Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes, Duets, Études, From Here On Out, Gong, In The Upper Room, Meadow, Les Patineurs, Piano Concerto #1, Pretty Good Year, Push Comes to Shove, Sinfonietta, Les Sylphides and Symphonie Concertante.  Murphy has also performed featured roles in Company B, The Elements, Overgrown Path and Without Words.

She created Clara, the Princess in Alexei Ratmansky’s The Nutcracker and leading roles in Glow – Stop, Kaleidoscope, One of Three, Rabbit and Rogue, Thirteen Diversions and Within You Without You:  A Tribute to George Harrison.

Murphy danced Odette-Odile in the ABT telecast of Swan Lake and also appeared in the ABT telecast of Le Corsaire.  Other television credits include the Washington Opera’s Die Fledermaus and, in November 2010, an appearance on the series Gossip Girl.  During November 1999, she also participated in the Melissa Hayden Project, part of the Balanchine Foundation’s video series filming dancers who worked with George Balanchine, teaching their roles to young performers.  The Foundation filmed Hayden teaching Murphy the pas de deux from Stars and Stripes and Donizetti Variations.  Murphy was seen in the feature film CENTER STAGE and also appeared in the sequel, CENTER STAGE 2: TURN IT UP.

In 2013, Murphy starred as Giselle in a Royal New Zealand Ballet movie produced by the New Zealand Film Commission.


More scenes from the day follow.



Commencement 2014 Photos

Board of Trustees Chair Robert L. "Rob" King III asked the students to go ahead and take a moment for their "selfies." They willingly obliged.


Visual Arts Program Director Will Taylor decides to take a "selfie" with his fellow faculty members (seated in the front of the house).

Hannah Davis, president of the High School Student Leadership Board, brings greetings to her fellow students.


Interim Chancellor James Moeser smiles as the imcomparable Rosemary Harris gestures as she concludes her remarks. It has become a commencement tradition that the British actress -- wife of School of the Arts founder John Ehle -- reads a statement that Martha Graham made to Agnes de Mille.


In typical School of the Arts fashion, the entertainment consisted of a skit featuring "dancers" (Tom Murray and Todd Hoover) competing for the role of Gillian Murphy in an upcoming film.

Much to the chagrin of the other dancers, Picklina Pickloma won the role.


Outside the Stevens Center following the commencement ceremony



                                                                                                        Photos by G. Allen Aycock