When I was in art school, before my senior year, I volunteered to help with the senior graduation. As an usher, I just had to smile a lot and wander the halls and back stage rooms at Lincoln Center.
I think I did it more to be able to go where regular civilians couldn’t go but eventually we seated all the parents and families of the graduates and the ceremony began.
The guest speaker was some big film reviewer for one of the New York papers or magazines and she came to the podium and started what must have been a Valium-induced rant that was to go on for one hour and forty-five minutes. She went on and on, complaining about Hollywood and the film business and society in general. None of it had to do with art school or students and their upcoming career but she just kept babbling as parents started to escape the auditorium out of sheer boredom.
Eventually, the administrator in charge of the graduation gathered the ushers and told us to get all of the parents back into the auditorium for the graduation ceremony. My guess is that someone used a blow gun and tranquilizer dart on the speaker and they had timed when she would pass out and could be dragged off the stage.
I kept that in mind when I was asked to speak at an art school graduation last year and swore it would be funny, poignant, endearing, and most of all under fifteen minutes. Unfortunately, as often happens, several administrators had booked speakers for the event without checking with each other and as I had the utter audacity to expect a speaker’s fee, somehow they went with the other speaker. I heard he stammered and mumbled a lot and spoke about the gaming industry while students sat in the sun getting strokes. I’m sure fans of World of Warcraft hung on every word as they dehydrated.
As I had already written my speech, I spoke with the Web Designer Depot editor, Ben, and asked if he’d publish it for all of the recent graduates of art school. As he has agreed, here is the short, sweet and heartfelt speech only a few were to hear. I hope it inspires you to reach for more, strive for greatness and be thankful you can read it at your leisure, rather than sitting in the hot sun for several hours to receive a piece of paper and throw a dangerous ninja star-like hat with four sharp edges carelessly into the air, to land who-knows-where. Enjoy!
Welcome graduates, parents, teachers, deans and unidentifiable, overpaid administrators.
Iâ€™m honored to be here today. Iâ€™m honored to be able to send off these talented young creatives. Iâ€™m honored to be able to tell you parents that you should be proud of your sons and daughters. I see the future of my industry before me and I have great hopeâ€¦but not for haircuts and un-pierced body parts.
Itâ€™s customary to open a speech with a joke but as this speech is pretty much one big joke, I should say something serious.
(Think for a while.)
Nope. Nothing comes to mind.
People did suggest I tell a story from my days at MAD Magazine. Unfortunately, I canâ€™t repeat most of them with your parents around. Maybe that is I canâ€™t tell it with your kids around. Theyâ€™re basically not fit for anyoneâ€¦ if Iâ€™m not drunkâ€¦ so letâ€™s see what happens as the speech goes on! (Chug from water bottle.)
I will tell a very sweet story that has some sort of moral. When I was a young teenager, I got to meet the guy who wrote and drew â€śThe Lighter Sideâ€ť, Dave Berg. We chatted and I said something to him that would make him remember me for years. It wasnâ€™t â€śdie you old bastard!â€ť It was something nice, like â€śhave a good lifeâ€ť or â€śhave a wonderful lifeâ€ť or â€śitâ€™s a wonderful lifeâ€ť.
As the years went on, I would meet Dave here and there, sometimes when Iâ€™d go visit the MAD offices and theyâ€™d just let me wander around â€” they let anyone in.
When I started writing for MAD I would see him at the staff parties and when I was hired as the art director, I called Dave, who had insisted I call him, â€śUncle Daveâ€ť â€” not in the creepy wayâ€¦like when I was a young teenager â€” and introduced myself as the new art director. We just had a great chat about what a small world it was and how sometimes dreams do come true. Who would have thought that my rabid fandom of MAD would later be masked by my hatred for it as an employee?
About mid conversation I said, â€śwell, Uncle Dave, itâ€™s been so great catching up and realizing what a small world it truly is. Who thought I would be the one to fire you. Bye!â€ť
There was a long silence until I started laughing. That phone call killed him. May he rest in peace.
And there, is the moral of the story: relationships. Some call it networking, appreciation marketing or non-sexual hook ups â€“ oh yeah! Your business is looking gooood! That works both ways.
Graduates, look around you and realize that this is your strongest network. Your fellow sufferers through these years will be your key to success. Many years after art school, I am a tight friend with my two locker mates from the School of Visual Arts, Pete and Steven.
Yes, we had three to a locker back then. I sound like an old Ellis Island immigrant;
there was 87 to one bed with the babies at the top so they wouldnâ€™t get crushed. Then we would layer by age. I had to lie on my 16-year-old sister when I was 13. Do you know what that does to a young man? Luckily, there was nothing wrong with it in the old country.
I was blown away by how clean your school is. SVA was a crack house death trap when I went there. If you havenâ€™t seen Art School Confidential, itâ€™s a must for every art school graduate. It will change your life. I believe it was written and directed by an SVA contemporary of mine.
There was graffiti everywhere. Keith Haring was at SVA at the time but we called him the â€śglowing baby guyâ€ť. I had a chance to get one of his originals in the subway and let it go too long so I could catch a train at odd hours. Mistake number 3,729 in my life. Letâ€™s see if this speech gets added to the list, which is in the millions right now.
Pete and Steven and I would write notes to each other on the wall opposite our locker rowâ€¦along with rather well done caricatures of each other, because we were in art school and good at that stuff, we drew each other having kinky sex with farm animals and such. It got rather graphic: â€śPete, meet me in the lounge at 3PM and this is you _____ a goatâ€™s _____â€ť
One day, after months of these illustrated notes filling the wall, I went to the locker and there was a young lady just one or two lockers down. I smiled at her and she looked back into her locker. I was getting my stuff and noticed the stuck up young lady was looking at the wall, then at me, then back at the wall, then me, then her locker, then the wall. She had to have recognized the perfectly done image of my head coming out of a horseâ€™s back endâ€¦and doing other things.
Well, she walked away quickly. Probably took a really long shower while crying later. I learned, on that day, that itâ€™s great to be recognized for oneâ€™s art talent.
Pete went on to become a creative director at Playboy and sends me pictures of himself at photo shoots standing next to naked women. Steven went on become the creative director for Parker Brothers Games and Toys and I have Monopoly games in every language and my kids have every Nerf weapon in case of Nerf zombie apocalypse. I did okay, too, although they never wanted complimentary subscriptions to MAD Magazine.
Many years later, we are there for each other through and between jobs and have given each other the greatest projects of our careers. Certainly I am connected to other classmates, my teachers who are still alive, and coworkers from my past and presentâ€¦and hopefully future.
I usually tell students, and this is the serious part of this speech. This is itâ€¦finally, so listen up.
Be kind to those you meet on the way up the ladder because you will meet them on the way down. That was either Gandhi or Ed McMahon who said that. And I have to tell you itâ€™s very true. If you have made enemies of your classmates, I highly suggest you mend bridges today. Cash works well.
I donâ€™t want you to forget your family network. Your aunt knows a guy who is treated by a doctor who lives next door to your third cousinâ€™s brother-in-law that works at a big ad agency. Use it!
There is no death penalty for asking. The most they can say is, â€śno!â€ť
I have a dream client I have called, sent emails, mailed postcards and not once has this guy ever acknowledged me. People ask me why I still do it: because he hasnâ€™t told me, â€śnoâ€ť. Itâ€™s not stalking unless they tell you to stay away. This is business, not dating!
I never wanted the family connections. I was going to â€śdo it on my own!â€ť If I have to tell you how foolish that statement and false pride is, and how much I regret it, then you canâ€™t stand in the line to give me a good swift kick after the ceremony.
Explore connections with friends, neighbors, and your inner voice.
(Do Shining Danny/Tony finger routine â€“ â€śthereâ€™s no jobs here Mrs. Torrence!â€ť).
Hearing â€śnoâ€ť does hurt. Try being married to my ex wife! But if you learn that in business itâ€™s nothing personal, you can just keep moving ahead. And if itâ€™s â€śnoâ€ť this time, keep them on your mailing list. All they can do is tell you to stopâ€¦and that gives you a chance to talk to them. Iâ€™ve made some great connections with people who said no at first and responded to the question of why?
If I could give more advice, itâ€™s to sponge off your parents for as long as you can! So, to the parents, Iâ€™d like to speak to you as the father of two creative children. Firstly, as a creative child myself, I understand what youâ€™ve put up with. The crazy haircuts and colors, tattoos, crazy clothesâ€¦but then I turned forty and it all looked a little ridiculous.
Youâ€™ve put up with a lot, parents, but soon you will smile and shake your head at the fond memories of your creative babies gluing buttons to the cat or adding a car in crayon to that Picasso print you have or turning my sisterâ€™s Barbie playhouse into the dungeon of death with the good serrated kitchen knife and all the black and red finger paint in the house.
Donâ€™t laugh! Only my mother gets to laugh as I get it back double from my kids.
(Look over to students.) Oh, and youâ€™ll get yours. Your mothers will be laughing right along with me, because Iâ€™ll be dating them.
Itâ€™s nature we grow. The young replace the old; the old watch Matlock and eat dinner earlier and earlier. My last dinner date was at 2:30 in the afternoon.
Parents, I joke about your kids sponging off you but we all know they will. Enjoy it. Be proud of them. They are still the strange little children who were seen as differentâ€¦ psychotic maybe? They will need your guidance and support. They are blessed by the gift of creativity but cursed by a society that treasures design on products, souvenirs, TV and everything we need and touch in life but do not respect the minds that supply it all. BURN WITCHES!
I hear many young creatives say they want to have my experience. Work hard, evolve as a designer and my experiences will be your experiences. You are in a great time for young creatives. People are much more apt to hire with less experience and let you grow. Be open to every chance you have. Seize every opportunity. You can sleep when you die.
Learn from mistakes and they become lessons and there will be many lessons along the way. Art school prepared you with a great foundation, but you have to build your own career on it. Keep networking. Keep learning. Read the design blogs and go to design events and use your creativity to your best advantage.
Donâ€™t say â€śIâ€™m a graphic designerâ€ť or â€śI am a web designerâ€ť or any other title that will pigeonhole you in your own mind. You are not bound by conventional thinking. If you want to create web sites during the day and paint clouds at night, or make sock monkeys or paint sneakers with individual designs, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Creativity has many avenues and your mind has no limits. If you have no paying work, then create that book you always wanted to do and then find a publisher. Create a web site to sell those little buttons you like to make. Take the packaging from a local manufacturer and redesign it and present it to them to update their brand. Create whatever your mind can devise!
Whether you are working on a corporate web site, or logo or something for your creepy, drunken uncle, make that design your best. When you can look at a finished design and say, “Iâ€™m proud of this!” well, thatâ€™s why we do it.
A friend of mine tells students that if you are being paid $200 to do a job worth $2,000, then do a $2,000 job on it. You can use that to get the $2,000 jobs. I asked him how much he paid for his house and he said $2,000 and how much for a candy bar and he said $2,000, so ignore the number but you get the point, as do the other members of his insane asylum art class.
There are articles all over the news these days of how corporations are seeking creative thinking for problem solving. If corporations are talking about it now, just imagine the possibilities when they start enacting it in 2042.
I envy you because you have so many choices and so many possibilities. But keep in mind that Grandma Moses didnâ€™t start painting until she was 80. There will always be unlimited possibilities. If you have a creative mind, there are always possibilities because we see the world and problem solving in different and innovative ways. It will be that creativity that has and will save us. It is your dreams and passion we older farts people depend upon for a better future than not being run off the road and murdered for our gasoline and medicationsâ€¦. which just happened to me on the way here.
I wish you the best of luck, good health, much success andâ€¦what was that thing I said to Dave Berg when I first met him? I donâ€™t remember, but itâ€™s not the â€śdie you old bastardâ€ť, one.
Congratulations and best wishes to you all.
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Feature image by Shutterstock
Who spoke at your graduation? Was my speech better?