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Six Things I Learned at University

This speech was presented written and presented by Liana Rossi as the Student Address at the Laureate 2015 Graduation Ceremony, Wednesday April 13, 2016 to students from Billy Blue College of Design.

Good afternoon ladies and gentleman. Faculty, family, friends. Graduates. Designers! Class of 2015.

I would like to acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora nation whose land we are meeting upon today - I do this because our words have power and meaning and the ability to change things.

It is both a privilege and honour to stand before you.  I would like to sincerely thank Laureate for extending the offer to me.  Thank God I wasn’t asked to accompany with slides.  Imagine standing in front of 230 designers with poorly kerned type.

In true Uni student form, I wrote this speech at 3am despite having a few weeks notice of the presentation date.  I didn’t have a Redbull for breakfast.  Some things do change.

As someone who religiously listened to Kanye West’s ‘The College Dropout’ in my teens, I’m sure it’s pleasant for my parents to see me finally finish something.  It only took me 3 institutions and 7 years.

Finishing something.  That’s what today marks.  I’ve always been good at starting things and deciding they weren’t for me. Piano or golf lessons, dance class, degrees, jobs…  But my Dad (and Henry Ford) both said “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t - you’re right.”  It was upon meeting 2 Billy Blue Alumni during an internship, that I found the thing I really thought I could do, at a place I could do it - and I did.

Speaking of things I haven’t finished - I purchased a book called How To Be A Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul.  Unfortunately, I took a job in advertising before I got to read it.

However, for many of you, this isn’t the first time you’ve finished something.  You may have another degree under your belt, have owned a small business, juggled study with raising a family, or were so sure of your passion you enrolled fresh out of high-school.

Over the years I have felt inspired, excited, envious, impressed, astounded - amongst other things - at the calibre of my fellow students.  It hasn’t always been easy, as the cliche goes.  But to be sitting here - each with our own hardships or obstacles we have over come - we should feel proud to have spent 3 years honing our skills, learning about ourselves and life in general, and for coming out the other side.

On my first day, in my first class, I received some of the best advice you could offer an ambitious student.  “You are a designer from right now. Start working, explore your craft outside of class, get an internship or try for a job.”

It wasn’t until I entered the workforce full time that I realised just how well Billy Blue was able to prepare me for additional aspects of work, on top of the design principles.

Here’s a few of the non-conventional, perhaps unintentional things I’ve learnt:

1. Generational gaps do exist

I’ll forever fondly look back on presenting my Type Journal in Typography and Context, which I themed with a Biggie Smalls vibe, and rewrote lyrics.  Titled “Mo Typography, Mo Problems”.  Inside I placed a burnt CD so the lecturer would understand what the hell he was marking.  There was also a 50 Shades of Grey themed one.  You don’t need the details.  

In the workplace, many of our talented predecessors and bosses will have no idea what we mean when we say we are tired “AF” or “On fleek”,  and that’s but a small part of the culture and reference we’ll bring to our work.

2. Work life balance

IS. A. MYTH. How many of us pulled all nights, slept under machines that were rendering, wrote passive aggressive signs to protect machines?  Hid from the cleaners trying to lock us out after hours at the Mount St campus?  Ran to the printers a minute before they closed requesting a saddle stitched book for 8:15 the next morning?  How many of us thought this would end when uni did?  The good news is that in the event of crazy deadlines or pitch work, you will rise to the occasion like you’re in the relay team at the 2016 Rio Olympics.  Relay.  A segway into...

3. Group Work

Ah, Groupwork.  Another very real life lesson that you dreamed of never having to do again.  Because there was always one, wasn’t there.  But we’re not here to name names.  And because on the odd occasion, I was that one.

Chances are you’re quickly learning that our entire lives are literally going to be group work.  Because life is one cruel joke being played on us all.

In all seriousness, the innate collaborative method of learning we have experienced has set us up for infinite success.  I’m sure someone explicitly told us that once, but I wasn’t the greatest listener.

4. Managing-Up

A phrase thrown around but not often welcomed in practice.  In our classrooms, with their healthy student : teacher ratio, we were set up for open dialogue.  The ability to unpack an assessment or brief upon receiving it, talk through the processes and understand the iterations of work has enabled us to, if we choose, address feedback with our employers, clients or even, if you’re ballsy, a CEO.

I’ve read many the article that Gen Y can’t take critical feedback, and I’ve probably done a disservice to our generation thus far.  Which leads me to my next point:

5. Handling lengthy feedback

You can each probably recall at least one mark you received, one piece of feedback from a lecturer that puzzled you, or you felt like you could challenge.  Even the most infinite amount of lecturer feedback could not and will not prepare us for the random requests or creative recommendations clients will provide us.

But thankfully, we’re a little more experienced with it now.  Which leads me to my final point...

6. Enthusiasm will wear off by week 5, or as early as week 3

New semester, new me.  You’ve got a binder, or a pencil case, or carefully categorised folders on your desktop.  You never forget your student card or an external hard drive.  You know what room the class is in.  Then you don’t.  Our sessions taught us to ride the ebbs and flows, to know when to gear up and know when to relax a little.

Whether you’ve entered the industry, are seeking a new path, are working the next big thing or have no idea. You don’t need me to tell you how great you’ll be - because you’ve gotten this far without me, and the only weird un-motivational quote I’ve got left will probably get me escorted off stage.

Fellow graduates, I would like to summarise with the wise words of Rihanna.

“Now mi put in,
Work, work, work, work, work”

Thank you, congratulations and good luck!

Liana Del Cray