Following is the text from the graduation speech I gave to classmates, professors, friends and family at the USC School of Architecture graduation on May 15, 2009.
Good morning everyone!
I want to start off by thanking my classmates for inviting me to speak on their behalf today.
I also would like to thank all of our family and friends for supporting us throughout our entire time at USC, and also for joining us this morning.
Last but not least I want to thank the faculty and staff of the School of Architecture for challenging and encouraging us, and I'd especially like to thank the Building Science Faculty for mentoring me during my time here.
Now I'd like to address everyone here in the front, in the funny black hats: we picked a heck of a time to graduate, didn't we?
In all seriousness, though, these are very challenging times. Perhaps more challenging than any of us have ever seen. But I'm not going to stand up here and tell you what you already know. Instead, I'd like to use my time on this stage to give you a few tips that you can take with you when you leave here today. Without further ado...
"Emily's Top 5 Happy Thoughts for the Class of 2009."
NUMBER 5: Think positively and don't dwell on your fears. I started off with this one because there's a good chance that many of us are having negative thoughts about what the future holds. But just forget about that negativity. Let it go, it won't help. You've got goals; focus on those instead. So, plan out your goals, focus on them, and think positively about how you can achieve them, and they'll guide you through the challenges you face.
NUMBER 4: Remember your gifts. The number one gift you're being given is the piece of paper you're going to receive from this university. Yes, you had to pay for it so it's not necessarily a "gift"; and yes, the Trojan family and its network and the football games are all great, but not too many people have the opportunity to receive a world-class education like we did; take your experiences and what you've learned here with you, and it won't let you down.
NUMBER 3: Invest in yourselves. I must give credit for this one to Dean Ma, who so wisely mentioned it first at a lunchtime talk we had a few weeks ago. If, like many of us, you anticipate having some "down time" in the near future, use it to brush up on your skills. I made a major investment in myself when I quit my job a few years ago and decided to go back to graduate school. But I wanted to be a better designer and a better professional, and that's why I ended up at USC, and now I'm here giving you a speech, so I think I did OK! So, go out and learn a new program.... participate in competitions.... go to lectures or conferences or seminars....get out there and do whatever you can to make yourself a better designer and a better person. Which leads me to ....
NUMBER 2: Be exceptional people. Go out and do more than you've ever done before. Be "better" than you've ever been before. Be persistent and unrelenting in your pursuit of excellence. It sounds silly, but life is an adventure, and it will be an even greater one if you embrace it, open yourself up to new opportunities, and be the best version of yourself that you can.
And NUMBER 1: Create/innovate/instigate. Or to use a cliche, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade! Based on this premise, we should be able to make a LOT of lemonade right now...reservoirs, even. But maybe we can make a new kind of lemonade.... maybe we can drink it out of funny straws or mix it with pomegranate juice, or something. The point being, use your creative energy to try something differently, to look at problems in a new way, and to challenge limitations.
Ok, so I'm done with my list, which is good because I think my brief time is up. I realize that, as graduates, you probably thought you were done with note-taking, but I hope that something I said today resonated with you; I hope for all of us that we're able to go forth and make a difference in the world; on a personal level, I hope that each of us is able to contribute in a way that is helpful to the environment and to the Earth; and ultimately I'm confident that we will all persevere and succeed because we've been given the tools and the skills to do so. With that, I'd like to say, thanks again for having me, congratulations to my fellow graduates, good luck out there, and fight on!