Storyboard: Yanqi Li

A leader steps up

I received two degrees in Mechanical Engineering before attending ArtCenter. That background helped me form the habit of solving practical problems. In addition to function, I was always drawn to products that were aesthetically pleasing. That was the starting point in my pursuit of a degree in Product Design.

For a while, ArtCenter was simply one of many schools to which I wanted to apply. I had no sentimental attachment to it as some sacred temple of learning. After I was admitted to a few other schools, my husband and I took a road trip from San Francisco to Pasadena.

When I first laid eyes on ArtCenter’s campus, it did not match the idea of the place that I had in my head – mostly, because it was so drastically different from the gigantic universities I had previously attended. ArtCenter’s campus was welcoming. I quickly grew fond of the College’s unique academic culture. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this intimate, magical place was truly where I wanted to be.

At ArtCenter, it can feel as though you’re cut off from the world at large. There is a quiet, intense, even monastic focus among the students at the College that is truly unlike anything I have ever seen.

My time at ArtCenter was never easy. Alas, I missed my time there as soon as I graduated. ArtCenter was an interactive, immersive academic experience. I was creating tangible, lasting connections not only with teachers, friends, and classmates, but also with corporeal learning tools, and also with the campus itself. In that way, ArtCenter becomes a part of you.

Receiving the College’s Student Leadership Award was surreal. The award itself is primarily an honorary title, one granted to a graduating ArtCenter student who best exemplifies superlative leadership qualities.

Until recently, I didn’t think I deserved the award. After all, I’ve never thought of myself as a leader. In the midst of the madness that was my final term, I received an email from the College. I was told that I had been nominated as a candidate for the aforementioned award. I was to submit additional materials for review by an ArtCenter panel. The rest was out of my hands.

Never in my wildest dreams did I predict that I would be selected for an honor like this. I was blindsided. Subsequently, I learned that I was nominated by legendary faculty member Leigh Hoffman. That made the whole process even more surreal. After all, I had only taken one class with Leigh. It seems I had made an impression. If nothing else, I was flattered that the great Leigh Hoffman had spoken so highly of me.

I didn’t want to let down my family, my fellow students, Leigh, or the people who ultimately selected me. Amusingly, I never found out who they were. These people believed in me. So, I stepped up to the plate.

Leadership is a big word, and one I never thought of in association with myself. I was never involved in student government. I’ve never chased honorary titles for the sake of having them. I’ve always just sort of stayed in my lane and worked in the space I’ve created for myself.

When I was picked for the award, I met with Ray Quirolgico, Associate Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, to prepare my speech and admitted that I didn’t think of myself as a leader. He told me that leadership isn’t about titles; it’s about people, first and foremost. From that point forward, I have thought about the concept of leadership in an entirely different way.

I have a daughter now. My first priority has become supporting my family. I still maintain an emphasis on social innovation and sustainability in whatever I do. It’s a long, arduous path, but I’m walking it, alongside my family, and all the other creatives who have the courage to embrace the “leader” label, even if they don’t feel like leaders.

Yanqi Li
BS 21 Product Design
ArtCenter Student Leadership Award Recipient

Leadership is a big word, and one I never thought of in association with myself.

Yanqi Li
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