commencement 2020

It’s Commencement weekend here, and I’m honored to have been asked by the graduating B.Arch. class at ISU to be part of their ceremony today. Virtual, of course, but no less heartfelt. This year’s graduation is even more meaningful for me, as my daughter is also Class of 2020 and will have her own virtual ceremony next week. A bittersweet moment, but one that I hope is full of hope for times when we can gather and celebrate good things together.

So, for the record, and for anyone out there marking a transition this spring from school to practice or to more school, and especially for anyone watching their kids or students walk across a virtual stage, here are some thoughts on starting out in the midst of the unknown…

Today, as the father of a fellow graduating college senior, I empathize with you and your support teams. Graduation should be a coming together to share the sense of a long, difficult task well-done, and virtual events like this are showing us how important being together in one another’s company really is.

I hope that this strange end to your college years encourages you to champion those things that really do bring us together but that have clearly grown weak—the social and cultural infrastructures that help us enjoy one another’s company when things are good and that hold us together in tougher times. We’re used to thinking about the physical structures that do this like buildings, landscapes, and cities. But the pandemic is showing us that those are only the physical manifestations of other structures—ecological, economic, political—that are just as vital, and that have also fallen victim to short-term thinking and a profound lack of perspective. 

Our current predicament should move all of to act. To build, but also to rebuild.

So.  Go design better places, yes, but be good citizens and help design a better world. Work for the care, the foresight, the patience that we have been lacking. Work for fairness. Find causes you believe in passionately and work together to make them happen. If you find yourself less busy than you’d hoped as the economy recovers, take what you’ve learned here and build your own path.  You have a great excuse to be creative with your story. Think about what needs to be done, make that your calling, and don’t limit yourself with labels like “architect” or “designer.” All of this so that, when the next crisis hits, your generation will do a better job of taking care of each other and the abundant but fragile world we have.  

All of the usual commencement speech advice still applies. Work hard but stay in balance, keep in touch with your classmates and with us, stay hydrated, eat plenty of vegetables, and wash your hands regularly. But also: don’t waste a crisis. Take the pause that we’re enduring right now and use it. Think about the things you really value and how to do the hard work to make them really happen over the longer, happier years ahead.  

I hope that we’ll invite you back as a class soon and that we’ll give you the in-person celebration you deserve. When we do, I hope we’ll hear about the good projects you’re designing and the causes you feel passionate about and are working on. Most of all, I look forward to hearing about the lives you’re leading with the intention and the drive that comes from having had this chance—this excuse—to think deeply about what matters to you and how to design those values into the world you’re inheriting today.

Onward. Be well, do good work, and take care of each other.