Everyone Should be a Commencement Speaker at Least Once

A few months ago, I was selected as the 2011 commencement speaker for Design Media Arts College (DMAC) in Boca Raton, Florida. During my time there, I was inspired by the energy of the students and faculty, and thankful for their warm reception during the ceremony, not to mention the honorary doctorate! If Barry Deck™ on Youtube is not for you, you’ll find the text from that day below:

Part 1. How I Met My Girlfriend

Hello DMAC!

You’re lucky to be here.

I’m lucky to be here.

I’m here because my dad met Barb Sageman at church in January and mentioned me. Actually, the internet mentioned me, then i was most likely googled, and eventually browsed, Linked In, facebooked, buzzed, bebo’d, tagged, twittered, bing’d, emailed, SMSd, shipped across the country, shrink-wrapped, and heat-sealed in this gown, to stand in front of you… which is pretty much how everything happens these days.

More on that later. It influences our careers.

I must confess that while i was physically present at both my graduations, i was mentally absent and don’t remember a single word from either commencement speech. My apologies if any of you were MY commencement speakers.

So if for some reason, you can’t hear me today. I understand. Also, it’s a wonderful thing for you guys because if I say anything you don’t like, you’re going to forget — probably very soon!

So, before we get into the real meat and potatoes of this talk, I want to thank Dr. Alan Stutts the board of directors, and Barb Sageman for inviting me here.

I know that you have been prepared during your time here, to move on to whatever is next, and do it with integrity, passion, humor.

Now, aerate that rayon. Take a deep breath and enjoy the day because you’ve earned it.

No, no. I’m not done yet.

I got a haircut and an interview suit.

On my first interview they hired the suit, therefore I hated my first job. Usually, when you hate your job, you’re wasting part of your life.

Dress as you, that way they’ll know who you are, what you like, they will know what you care about, therefore understand what you might be happy doing, and your first job might not turn out to be a total disaster.

I met my fiancé in a job interview. She was wearing too many competing layers, comprised of fuzzy wool and worried knitwear that looked more like dried-out hair balls of the feline persuasion. I thought of her as the snuffleluffagirl.

She was sparkly and sassy and I knew how to talk to her because of the way she looked. I put her on my team. If she’d looked like she stepped straight out of stock photo land, she wouldn’t even have gotten the project. I would not know her today.

We would not have ended up hanging out for six years after the gig was done.

Part 2. Anecdotes from Working

But after graduation I found myself in the right place at the right time.

Successful people, especially Americans, always say that success comes from hard work, persistence, knowing the right people. They want you to think they’re superhuman. They’re not giving you the whole truth. Success also requires some luck.

I got hold of some new technology: Fontographer. With this software, I could design typefaces.

Work with the newest, weirdest, most interesting tools you can find. Avoid what the crowds are doing. Too hard to get noticed.

I got noticed. I got some press. I was in all the design magazines and annuals the year after I graduated, so that meant I was “successful” at 26.

Then things got really fun.

My typefaces went around the world, like a gazillion of my unintentional offspring saying things I NEVER would have taught them. It was pretty wonderful. Cigarette ads in Germany. A nationwide Taco Bell campaign. It gets stranger. Scientology billboards in LA. A British porn magazine called “Screw.”

There was momentum. I didn’t need to sell with people begging to give me work. I didn’t learn how to market myself. With all of that press, I wasn’t steering my career. The market was steering me.

If you don’t plan your own destiny, someone else will, and it won’t be in your best interest.

I came to resent the way we get pigeonholed in design. This designer does typefaces, another one animates characters. It’s better if we move around.

There was a study at a major Japanese electronics company a few years ago, which revealed that no matter what position someone holds, from CEO, down to maintenance, the best ideas come from those who had the largest circles of friends and associates OUTSIDE of their own departments. These workers had broader knowledge, deeper understanding of their organization, and more compassion.

Learn how to market yourself, even if you don’t need to.

By neglecting your own marketing, you could even create your own personal recession. I have done this more than once. It turns out I excel at neglecting my own self-marketing. My dad says I am living proof that it’s possible to be famous and poor.

When you started school, about 5 million foreclosures ago, (I googled it) the world was different.

This is a quote from Newsweek last month, referring to unemployment among executives in the US: “Some who once drove BMWs are now becoming BWMs — beached white males.”

Now the stock market is up, and living standards are down.

It’s been said that we’re in a “jobless recovery.”

Does that sound weird to you?

What exactly does that mean?

Is that like living with no pulse?

In the New York Times last month, a story entitled “Class of 2009 Still Angry.” They’re flipping burgers and selling shoes. Some are ivy league MBAs. Indeed, you don’t have to go all the way to the Middle East to find young people who want change.

There are growing inequalities in our society, and until they are addressed, the US will not be what it’s cracked up to be.

Part 3. Now Let’s Save the World

Let’s get back to the fact that you guys are lucky.

You’re lucky because when you started school, you were different too. You now have new skills.

You guys are lucky to be graduating this year because the world needs creative people more than ever.

You guys are lucky because sustainability became a mainstream buzzword while you were here.

We need to design new systems for almost everything we do as a species. This will create the biggest economic boom in human history.

Who’s going to design all this sustainable stuff?

Who’s going to make it look desirable?

It will need to communicate visually.

It will be animated.

Parents, don’t worry. You’ve wasted no money. Your kids will have great careers.

We definitely need more designers. There’s an awareness of this all over the world. It might surprise you that China has more design students per capita than any other country on Earth.

And we don’t just need more designers. We need more businesspeople, elected officials, and voters who think like designers.

Let me explain how this works.

My definition of design is enormous.

It includes anything created with intention by humans.

Intention is the most important element of creativity and we humans are creation machines. People without design degrees are out there designing. Actually, they’re designing more than designers are right now. Some of them are amazing designers but they still need our help.

Let me say it again.

They need our help designing governments, businesses, relationships, policies, and movements. The act of creativity is the same thing as design. By this logic, all who create are designing.

Steve Jobs is a designer.

Ben Franklin was a designer.

Mahatma Gandhi was a designer.

On a linguistic level, we understand this innately. How many times have you heard someone referred to as the “architect” or the “mastermind” behind an event, a sports team’s success, or a new senate bill? That’s design talk.

So your design skills have nearly infinite uses.

Now go out and celebrate.

File a restraining order against that roommate!

Get that head wound sewn up.

Finish writing those papers. You’ll feel better.

Get off the computer sometimes. It’s not that healthy.

And change the world.

We humans made it the way it is. We’re the only ones who can fix it.

Graduates, I wish you the best of luck on your next adventure!

Thanks so much for listening.

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