Fentress invokes agents of change
Following is the full text of the commencement address made to spring 2011 graduates on May 14, 2011 by Distinguished Alumnus Curtis Fentress, FAIA, of Fentress Architects:
THE AGENTS OF CHANGE
I am honored to share this day with you. Just being here reinvigorates me and energizes me for the future!
Congratulations to each of you and your families and friends that have supported you in achieving this great accomplishment!
You are graduating from the College of Design, which is a distinguished institution. This college has a highly-ranked faculty with a truly unique collection of talents who are dedicated to the education of young designers. I’m sure that you are going into the world with the best possible preparation from this institution.
When I graduated from this college 39 years ago, it was estimated that one-half of the technical knowledge I had gained at the time would be obsolete in 10 years. For you, it is estimated that one-half of the technical knowledge you have gained may be obsolete in 3 years. The problem is we don’t know which half!
When I graduated, things were much slower. Memos (now known as e-mails) were circulated to classrooms and attached to bulletin boards after being printed on a mimeograph machine.
At my first job in 1972 we did drawings with pencils on paper. In 1980 the memory typewriter came into the office. It could store 32 pages of information! Until then, we were working with 3 sheets of carbon paper in a typewriter. The fax machine and the Apple computer came on the scene in the late 80s, and it has only been since the 90s that FedEx, the “Information Superhighway” – the Internet – and e-mail have become so widely used. Google was invented just 12 years ago when many of you were in elementary school. Ten years ago “sustainability” was not even in our vocabulary. Eight years ago, the U.S. Green Building Council or the USGBC was formed. Business procedures and technological innovations are changing at a dramatic rate.
Many of you were not born when many of these inventions that have had such an astonishing impact on the way we work took place. Some of them have been introduced in your lifetime and many more will follow.
- When I graduated, there were about 3.8 billion people on the planet. It is predicted that the world’s population will reach 7 billion this year and in 10 years the world’s population will reach 12 billion!
- Of the current world population, there are two billion people that do not have electricity and one billion that do not have reliable drinking water.
- Since I design airports I pay attention to airport trends. In 1960 there were 100 million passenger trips flown. Fifty years later – in 2010 – there were 5 billion passenger trips flown.
- Within the next 5 years, the U.S. may be the number two economy in the world.
The speed of change is accelerating dramatically and things will change even more during your careers.
I would like to share with you three lessons from my career.
First, listen closely.
I picked a growing city to open my architectural practice—Denver. By listening to the trends and observing what was going on, I realized that the city was growing and that it needed everything that I wanted to do in architecture. I have been able to grow my practice with the needs of the changing city. I made change my friend and now I am taking that experience around the world. Learn to listen as I did. Take advantage of change, embrace it as your opportunity in the future. Study the trends and what is driving the trends and pay attention to the counter-trends as well. Connect the dots and you will see the future! Remember what Wayne Gretsky said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.”
Second, don’t be afraid to fail!
When I began my job search in 1972, I had 18 interviews before I finally got a job. I lost track of the number of rejections before I had even one interview.
In my firm we have won 35 national and international commissions through design competitions. We win about 40 percent of what we try! So we have lost 50 times. We have never won a competition that we did not enter.
You notice that I use the word “we” a lot. Everything I or we do is in collaboration. Learn to work well with others, everything we do is in collaboration.
Be willing to be wrong . . . it’s part of innovation. Hard work does pay off. Don’t let anyone stand between you and your dreams!
Third – Do what you love!
The one thing that makes me leap out of bed every morning is that I love what I do. I love being an Architect. You need to find what you love! Do what you believe in! The only way to do great work is to do things that you believe in.
The secret is to identify what you are truly passionate about. Just follow your passion.
Do what you love and the money will follow. A lot of people don’t believe this but it’s true.
I recently went to a new doctor for a checkup and got the usual questions. What is your occupation? “Architect.” A few questions later he asked, “What is your hobby?” “Architecture.” No, not your occupation—your hobby. “Architecture.” He put his clipboard down and said, “So you do what you love!”
The one thing that Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Curt Fentress all have in common is that they each do what they love. Let your heart guide you!
Follow your core purpose!
There’s one last thing.
I think you have to be a little different to attend the College of Design. I believe the people who graduate from here are among the creative spirits in this world. You are the people who are not out just to solve a problem. You are out to change the world. You are graduating from one of the best colleges and universities in the world. This is a great launching pad. I encourage you to stay connected with the College. Give back to it! Interact with the students and professors and continue to learn. Stay connected to your classmates.
A lot of times people will think we are crazy. But in that craziness we see genius in you!
In ten years or less some of you will be leading design firms. Some of you will be leaders in your communities, on councils or on boards leading companies. Setting fashion trends—working to get the correct fold in fabrics in Paris, Milan, or New York. Working to explain wayfinding with international graphic signage that communicates across all language barriers. Working with a team that produces truly carbon neutral buildings and landscapes or developing vehicles that operate without fossil fuels. Designing environments with new materials that we have never dreamed of. Creating great design!
The future is yours. Our future is yours. You are the agents of change. Best of luck to all of you!
DO WHAT YOU LOVE!