Photo courtesy of NYUAD

Remembering Rubén

On May 3, theater students received an email from the Head of Department Rubén Polendo, informing them of his imminent departure from NYU in Abu Dhabi. ...

May 7, 2016

On May 3, theater students received an email from the Head of Department Rubén Polendo, informing them of his imminent departure from NYU in Abu Dhabi. Starting in the Fall of 2016, Polendo will be the new Chair of Tisch Drama at New York University. Embodying the liberal arts spirit, Polendo had majored in Biochemistry, only to switch gears and pursue a lifelong journey into the arts. At NYUAD, Polendo has touched many hearts inside and outside the Theater Department. Below, students share memories of Polendo.

Adam Ashraf, Class of 2018

Theater Major
"You have to be more mindful, Adam", Rubén would tell me after he spotted me absent-mindedly playing with my curls or chewing gum in apathy. At a time when I was dealing with a lot and making a lot of bad choices and bad impressions, he believed in me. He would sit me down and tell me how I could develop. He never tried to make me a better student. It was always about being a better artist and citizen.
He would be running between two classes and trips to India and rehearsal and Arts Center administration, and yet somehow miraculously still made the time to check in with every one of us and know we are okay. When we did have a conversation with him, we would leave feeling overwhelmed - there was so much to do and so little time. And yet we knew everything was going to be okay. We had a warm-hearted father figure who would always have our back when we were falling, literally in some physical exercises. He would ask us to fail, keep going, fail again, and of course, "stay in the attempt."
We're going to miss you. And yet something tells me we’re going to be fine. Because we have a little bit of you in us now. And tough times are coming for us but we promise to stay in the attempt and honor what you made.

Clive Miranda, Class of 2014

Biology/Pre-Med Major
Theater provided me with a new way of thinking. It made me better understand what it means to work in a team, in an environment where everybody watches out for each other, where one’s insecurities and limitations cease to exist as everyone is encouraged to be bigger and better than they ever thought possible, where one’s inadequacies are negated by another’s strengths such that, within that talented entity, weakness is merely hypothetical. I learned to be able to sit right there next to failure and push my body, push my mind and push my limitations - "staying in the attempt" with unwavering focus and passion each time. With this knowledge, I believe I can be an even better physician than I envisioned, now understanding how to work more effectively in team settings and create an environment of mutual support, encouragement and electric drive to succeed.

Erin Meekhof, Class of 2014

Visual Arts and Chemistry Double Major
It's hard to express the depth of the impact that Rubén has had on NYU Abu Dhabi, so I'll just tell you what he did for me.
The school assigned Rubén to be my first faculty mentor because I told them I wanted to study literature. And then, once I arrived, I was captivated by a visit to the science labs and their aspirations of a holistic science curriculum. I came to Rubén a one-week-old freshman already in crisis about what to study, separate passions tugging at me and unsure of where to turn. And instead of limiting me as I expected, he celebrated that. He told me how his undergraduate studies in chemistry uniquely equipped him for directing and art-making. His encouragement gave me permission to pursue both art and science, and his advocacy with administration opened those doors that I needed.
Rubén made the transdisciplinary ideal of NYUAD reality, for me and for many others, as one of the first faculty members with the background and vision to reach across department lines. Although he will be gone from campus, I firmly hope that his spirit of rigorous exploration and creative experimentation will continue to define the NYUAD education.

Krushika Patankar, Class of 2015

Theater Major
Rubén's vision for theater as a device for change, exploration and discovery were the very things that made me consider theater as a viable major. I doubt I would have pursued theater if he wasn't there to help me believe that art was capable of fulfilling more than just a need to be entertained. He taught me to question instead of simply accept things and I owe it to him for developing my curiosity that had remained dormant in me before I came to NYU Abu Dhabi.

Fatima Maan, Class of 2017

Theater and Economics Double Major
Rubén happened to me at the absolute low of my college career— hopefully. I had lost faith in NYU Abu Dhabi, in the people around me, in my education but mostly, in myself. It was a terrible place to be. On Candidate Weekend, quite frankly, you are fed a lot of crap. About how NYUAD is different, wonderful and a top-notch school and really in my first one and a half years, I saw that nowhere. Least of all in my education. But when I met Rubén, when I took Making Theater, I finally started believing in NYUAD and myself. Rubén transformed my life. And I’m not the kind of person who throws around such words lightly. He made me see the specialness in me and in NYUAD. He gave me a second chance at life and college. And for that, I will forever be indebted to him.

Farah Shammout, Class of 2016

Computer Engineering Major
'Stay stubborn until you are not' is just one of the numerous life lessons Rubén has taught me - in such little time. Thank you Rubén.

Laura Waltje, Class of 2017

Theater Major
It is perhaps only a slight exaggeration to say that I would not have survived my freshman year without Rubén. At the very least, I would have transferred out. I cannot count my blessings enough that when I was Skyping with my mentor, Katherine Williams, she brought up Reinventions of Love. Everyone who has taken that class has been profoundly affected by it.
Rubén has a way of pulling your opinions out of you. I happen to have a very expressive face. Whenever I grimaced or wrinkled my forehead, Rubén pointed to me and said, “That, what was that? Say what you are thinking.” The subject of love brings up many complex emotions and opinions that are sometimes so deeply opposed to the caricatures and superficial assumptions we make of each other. To watch how my classmates and I evolved that first semester expanded my empathy and shaped what I believe and how I articulate those believes. From rephrasing “I feel” to “I think,” to making statements instead of pitching sentences up into questions, the way I changed my language slowly carved ruts into my thought patterns that let me trust what I was saying.
Discussing love with Rubén and my classmates was the only thing that got me to get up during that first semester. I ran into a different professor in the hallway outside of Common Ground. We smiled and greeted each other. He told me that I must be doing well, because I was smiling. I had to laugh, because that was a few days after the health center would not let me go to class before the councilor returned, because I had circled that I sometimes thought I would be better off dead. Dragging myself out of bed that first semester was incredibly difficult, but I was never even late to a single one of Rubén’s classes. By the end of the class I was not only convinced that I wanted to take Making Theater, but also that I wanted to be a Theater Major — a move that surprised no one except myself, given my high school theater career.
I remember my friend Jordan urging me to ask Rubén about the Theater Mitu internship during the summer between freshman and sophomore year. I could barely get out the words. I expected Rubén to say, let me think about that for a few days and then to turn me down. Instead he smiled and said he was planning on asking me if I was interested in it. While most of Theater Mitu was in India for the Intensive, Rubén and I spent many days alone in his office, working side by side. Every few days he would turn to me and go “Have you eaten yet?,” despite me not having moved from his side that morning. Over those lunches we talked about art and life.
What I will miss most is not the inspirational figure, who is the head of what in jest is called the cult of the theater department, but having tea with Rubén once a week. By the end of Reinventions of Love, I was not only a theater major, but had turned from a shy little kid into someone who trusted their voice and their opinion — and frankly talks far too much in class now. Rubén taught me to consider myself an artist. He models a lifestyle that makes me believe that an artistic life is possible and attainable.
I am not proud to admit that at first my joy and congratulations at his new position as Chair of Tisch were overwhelmed by my deep sense of loss. I am still not sure how I will succeed in my capstone without his direct guidance — though if Rubén has taught me anything, it is that I will. The idea that I won’t be able to duck into his office to catch up on things is heartbreaking. When I first got the email, I went numb. Perhaps half an hour later, I had one of the worst panic attacks of my life — quite a feat, given my anxiety disorder. After that, I cried the rest of the evening, first while skyping with my mother, then with Arianna Stucki.
I am finally at a place though where my joy and congratulations outweigh my devastation. I have been blessed to have Rubén as such a close advisor, mentor, and friend. It is only right that he take on a position where he can guide and influence so many more people than in our tiny theater department.

Rend Beiruti, Class of 2017

Arab Crossroads Studies
To say that Rubén changed my life is an understatement. When I think back on the most rewarding experiences of my time at NYU Abu Dhabi, Rubén is almost always in the picture. Thank you for being the greatest friend, and always knowing the right things to say. To the person that has opened me up to questions, challenged me to be more and pushed me to imagine, I owe so much. You’ll always be with me.
gazelle logo