Graphic Design grad Naomi Tirronen delivered the following acceptance speech after being named ArtCenter’s Summer 2016 valedictorian.
You are brave. You are courageous. You may even be a little bit crazy, for making it this far. At ArtCenter, we have learned about our craft, about ourselves, at such a high intensity that we are taught to continually push beyond our limits. This is great, because this keeps us growing. This is also not so great, because we also tend to stress out over having nothing to stress out about. We have been doing this for the last three or four years, perfecting the person we are today. And in an hour or so, when we officially become alumni, we will need to make a very conscious decision of who we want to become for the future. Honestly, I have no idea what this means and nobody ever really does, but that’s okay!
Before ArtCenter, I was afraid to become a designer. I was afraid to take that leap of faith in myself, to strive for something that I knew was part of my identity. When I finally admitted to myself and to my family that this is what I wanted, I still heard the ghosts of doubts and naysayers, telling me that I wouldn’t be good enough or that I didn’t have the capability to become a designer. During ArtCenter, I met some of the most incredible people who I am proud to call my friends and colleagues. They gave me the strength and courage to fight off the ghosts. They taught me to stay humble and be patient with myself.
One time they managed to drag me away from my computer and into a bar to relieve some stress. You would think that since we’re away from school, away from the work, we’d be gossiping about who is dating who or how Pokemon Go is always crashing. No, we talk about ArtCenter. We talk about the work we’re doing, the classes we wish we could take. We brainstorm, critique each other and problem solve together. It’s in these moments, away from work, that we have our most brilliant ideas—and I think we forget that sometimes.
Another time we went dancing in downtown LA after a particularly stressful week. If you were to stop and observe, you would be able to tell which department each person comes from. Friends from the graphic design department are staking out the bar, hiding away well-designed coasters as if they were precious gems, and critiquing the kerning and layout of the drink menu. Friends from the photography department are shamelessly photographing the scene and comparing each other’s shots, making adjustments for the terrible lighting that usually in these types of places. It seems only the friends from the illustration department are fearlessly dancing away, letting go of any social filters we may have so that they can enjoy themselves and just have fun. They’re the ones dragging the rest of us away from our safe zones to join them for a few songs. At the end of the night, it doesn’t matter which department you were from or that one person’s photo is better than the other’s. It’s about the memories we made together and the community we built as creatives. You could also consider these nights out as a test of strength for how well you can work the next day because, believe me, just because we went out doesn’t mean our deadlines went away. We still had a ton of work to do before Monday’s class.
Out of everything I’ve learned at ArtCenter, one lesson has really stuck with me. It is the question: “If not now, when?” This was asked during a lecture on presentation skills during my first term. Its original intention was to get people who were a little shy to be more outgoing so their presentation could be more impactful. However, I took it to heart and asked myself: “If not now, when will I start acting like the designers I admire? If not now, when will I get outside of my comfort zone and experience something new? If not now, when will I learn to take care of myself?” So I would like to ask you the same thing. If not now, when will you be the changing force in your own life?
We don’t know exactly what the future holds, but I encourage you to embrace that uncertainty. Use it to define where life takes you. Trust that you will find the path or doorway or secret inter-dimensional portal that you are looking for. That in the end, you’re gonna be just fine. Now go out there and be brave.