The Commencement

When I began college almost 12 years ago, I was pretty sure that I’d come out of the other side as a painter with a degree. The degree, yes, but the painter? Technically, no. After going through the grueling initiation of foundation art classes the first year (a required stepping stone, after which you had the freedom to concentrate on whichever medium you pleased), I dived into painting – and  I didn’t like it. Looking back now, it seems clear. While I rather enjoy the act of painting, at the time, nothing measured up. I had no patience for my oil paints to dry; I was unhappy with the large canvases we were provided with; I felt sad and sleepy listening to the music my peers chose (silly? maybe!), and I found myself much too eager for our mid-morning break. Most importantly, I didn’t “get” my professor, and he didn’t “get” me.

I stuck with it for the quarter, and I moved along to photography. This is where I met Janie, my teacher and mentor to this day.

In case it’s not clear with my current reality, I do love to paint. The timing is meant to be – now. But what I didn’t love then was my lack of choice and nonexistent student-teacher relationship. After the switch, I remember developing my very first photograph in the darkroom. It was f@*ing magic! I was hooked, in love. And having Janie as a teacher took the cake – I was inspired by her. I would lay awake at night before the new quarter and dream up ideas to execute in the following months, and I could hardly wait to tell her, get approval and get started. She was soft spoken, but when she gave advice and direction, it mattered.

I graduated 8 years ago, but beginning in 2009, Janie was motivated to deliver a commencement speech to her (then) graduating class. She passed the speech along to past graduates, and has continued the tradition every year since – and I’ve been lucky enough to be on the receiving end. This time, she spoke about curiosity. In her words:

I believe that having a thirst for continuous learning will move you forward in your lives in ways that you could never imagine […] It will help you overcome the fear that you will inevitably have about making major changes in your life path. Taking risks can be worth it, if you feel that part of the tradeoff will be an expansion of your life, an acquisition of new knowledge and experience.

She continued by listing 6 ways in which to itch our curiosities, and after relieving our chalkboard entry of a boring ol’ honey-do list, I wrote them down for a daily reminder:

Above, they’re paraphrased a bit (nope, she didn’t actually say “nada”), but the message is the same. She went on to say:

These things are all quite simple. In fact, these actions are the very essence of a college education. You have been asked to function this way every year you have been here. But after you graduate, your life will take on a different kind of complexity, and the daily grind can all too easily make it difficult to do any of the above.

I didn’t intend for this to be such a wordy, lengthy write-up. Rather, I simply wanted to share her words that really hit home for me, in hopes it might do the same for you and your boat. It’s funny how quick we are to forget the basic fundamentals of our education, and it’s scary how easy it is to focus on anything but that. 8 years later, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve certainly allowed the day-to-day to muddle with my curiosities at times, and I’m resolving to kick that habit – 6 different ways. I already ask too many questions, but for me, the challenge is in that last one.

Now, I feel incredibly fortunate to make a living painting (life is strange, isn’t it?) and photographing our surroundings nearly every day for this virtual home. But having recently been stirred-up, excited, anxious and ultimately relieved by our recent Shop undertaking, her commencement couldn’t have come at a better time. This makes us wonder: who do you turn to for inspiration? Or maybe you’re the one inspiring others? (Surely you are!) Tell us about it; we want to soak it up, too.

8 replies on “The Commencement”

  1. Those words couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I’m in my junior year of college (at age 30–let’s say I never found the right path until now) and yesterday I was struggling with where my life was right now. Those words are just the inspiration I need to continue on, finding out where I want to go and what I want to do.

    BTW, I still think you should add to your career by including your photography into your sales. They are stunning.

  2. Now is a great time for the autodidactic. The internet makes self-teaching super accessible. iTunesU and other services puts expensive college courses in anyone’s living room. More than this, I’ve found that the ability to research and find the best, most respected books and resources on a subject to be a huge advantage today. No longer do you have to buy blind. Instead, you can just do a little googling skip right to the stuff that’s actually worth your time and has stood up to scrutiny.

    Not to totally thread-jump, but a few years ago I got really into civil war history. I don’t know where it came from, but it happened, and now I’m a total nerd about it (visiting battle fields and such – it’s gotten out of control). Anyway, there has been a book published on the subject for every single day since the war ended 150 years ago. That’s a lot of literature, and sifting through it to find what’s actually worth reading would be a full time job without access to the crowd-sourcing you can get on the web.

    Anyway, as you can see I’m a huge proponent of continued learning and self-education. This post is right on. Good on your professor for pushing it.

    1. Thank you, Jimmy! Wow, that is amazing – and no joke, a LOT of literature! Pretty incredible.

      Lauren, that’s great, and thank you! Jess is inspirational, isn’t she? Love that girl! As for our tiny home, we often joke that we can’t imagine living anywhere larger – too much to clean. Ha!

  3. I love this post so much! I get a lot of inspiration from Jess at Makeunder My Life. I found her at a time when I really needed “her and her blog” I soaked it up and realized that I needed to make a change. I am one of those weird people that has known what I wanted to do since high school: be a teacher. Two years ago I thought that I might not want that anymore but after taking the break to go to graduate school I realized that I missed the classroom and my students. And that teaching is truly my passion. I also get a lot of inspiration from your blog! I love how you and Scott are working with what you have. You never complain about your little condo. You just make it work. So thank you for sharing this story with us! Have a wonderful weekend.

  4. I too turn to teachers who have really made a difference in my life. I recently made a complete 180 into a non-art career but I know they all support me in my decision. Graphic Design didn’t seem to be a good fit for me but I hope to open my etsy paint shop next month!

  5. BEAUTIFUL! I must’ve accidentally missed this and unfortunately probably more of your entries because I was in newborn, no sleep hazy blissdom. Oh, and wonderful postpartum feelings too! haha! I love this blog entry, Kim!

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