Commencement Speech

Vincent L. Michael remarks 10 May 2008 UIC

Members of the Board of Trustees, Interim Chancellor Gislason, Dean Hulse, Dean Kirshner, members of the faculty, fellow graduates and honored guests…

I am honored and grateful to be addressing you at the UIC college of architecture and the arts graduation. I am honored by the degree, the institution I am receiving it from, and most of all, by the faculty and students who comprise this institution. I am grateful for the support of my family – my parents Tom and Lorrie, my wife Felicity and my children Felicity and Alexandra. I am humbled by those who surround me, particularly Professor Bob Bruegmann, who pushed me to do something new and different with my dissertation. He demanded that I question my assumptions, predispositions and beliefs. To continually question, inquire and reach outside of your comfort zone is the essence of education.

We are honoring the great Chicagoan Walter Netsch for the campus he designed. These buildings are forever part of our shared experience. I liked learning in this environment. I daresay they have a noble simplicity and a quiet majesty. But we also learned in the larger environment, in the city of Chicago. UIC is not limited to its campus but uses the city itself, a city that has been questioning and reaching and growing throughout its history. Chicago’s tradition of innovation in thought and design is manifest here every day and has enriched us all.

As graduates in architecture and fine arts I could tell you about form and content, about creativity and craft, about design and dialectics but you know that already – that is why you are graduating. I’d rather talk about excitement. I began my doctoral studies nearly two decades after I had completed my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I was already a teacher. Nonetheless, the overwhelming reaction I had from the day I started at UIC was excitement. Excitement. I had forgotten how much fun it was to be a student. I was excited – and impressed – by the quality of UIC faculty, their accomplishments and their skill at creating a lively debate. I was excited by the participation and enthusiasm of my fellow students.

Learning is not a one-way street. It is not even a two-way street. Learning is more like the highway cloverleaf that this campus was named after more than forty years ago, an endless flow of turning, dipping, rising, speeding and merging on every level. While I was here I could not wait to take another class, devour another book, enter into another discussion and attempt another exam. Everything about it was exciting.

This excitement came from the opportunity for scholarly inquiry – the opportunity to question, inquire and extend beyond your comfort zone. Education is the opposite of the soporific. It is the thrill of leaning over the edge of complacency. This excitement about learning drove me here and I hope it drove you here and I hope it keeps driving us for the rest of our lives.

Another great Chicagoan, John Dewey, said that education is not preparation for life; education is life. That was the feeling I had going to school here. The faculty and the students, the campus and the city constantly engendered the inquisitive, overreaching vitality that animates human experience. I hope that feeling never goes away.


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