Lessons From A Commencement

Yesterday I attended the fall 2012 commencement for Academy of Art University. We conferred hundreds of degrees to these talented artists, from AA’s to master’s.

While it was little lengthy, this process of sitting through the reading of all those names, I knew it was a life-changing moment for the students and families in attendance. This is it – go time. The celebrations ranged from slight smiles to utter elation. One guy was brandishing a light saber. He got a good laugh.

The undergrad valedictorian was from my school in the university, a source of great pride for me and my colleagues. I got a little misty when Kristina Rosa stepped to the podium to deliver her speech.

I was a witness to the beginnings of these young people’s’ life journeys, their ultimate destination not always known but their enthusiasm (and relief) palpable.

This day was also special to me for a couple of other reasons. I sat next to a colleague who has done some very special things with his life. Michael Buffington is not only a superb instructor, he is also tasked with giving speeches to incoming freshmen when we have orientation events. Buffington is a charismatic speaker who has a keen understanding of what reinvention and evolution of self is all about. I gushed with appreciation at what I have observed him accomplish. He accepted my complements with humility.

Later in the commencement we were treated to a speech by Eugene Daub. He was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, the highest possible doctorate one can receive from the university. Daub has been a member of the faculty of our School of Fine Art-Sculpture since 1991, and has created public art commissions for the US government, private foundations and universities. He also has work displayed at the Smithsonian and the British Museum.

He told the students mid-speech yesterday, “It’s probably a little odd for you to hear a story of a midlife crisis at a commencement exercise!”

Daub explained he was not always a sculptor. Earlier in his life he was an illustrator, and had decided to make a mid-course correction to pursue a career in sculpture and relief sculpture. Daub said (paraphrasing),  “This reinvention of my work and my life was the hardest thing I had ever attempted in my life. There were many moments of self-doubt. But I will be forever grateful I made the choice I made.”

Hearing Daub’s story of his transition from a successful illustrator to a world-famous sculptor moved me greatly. It reinforced my passionate belief that we are all capable of so much in this life. It’s possible when we began our career journey we were traveling on a different path, and our terror over the possibility of change keeps us on our current trail.

Daub trusted his gut, even when his reinvention was in no way guaranteed. He took a shot at something new, and the payoff was a win in his life lottery.

What a morning I was privileged to be a part of yesterday. I looked at those students, these people who challenged themselves to pursue careers in the arts, and completed their first step. I heard stories of reinvention.

My new career involves helping students find their unique path. I am positive, finally that I ultimately chose a good path for myself, too.

Signature photoJohn Scott is a media instructor, online education coordinator and the career services manager at the School of Multimedia Communications, Academy of Art University, San Francisco. He also counsels individuals and groups in the art of reinvention. John’s debut book Broken Glass and Barbed Wire will be available during the holiday season. 

Follow John on Twitter @johnscottsf.

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