Cindy Allen Gives Commencement Speech for University of Tennessee College of Architecture + Design

This morning, Interior Design Editor in Chief Cindy Allen delivered the commencement speech for the College of Architecture and Design at the University of Tennessee’s virtual graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020. A champion of the A&D industry, supporting both its superstars and rising stars, Allen was the perfect choice to welcome these new designers into the field, albeit during a uniquely difficult time. 

Allen began her speech by congratulating the Class of 2020 not only on graduating, but staying in. “That’s problem solving—you’re card-carrying designers already,” she said before instructing everyone to close their eyes and picture themselves together, wanting to feel their energy and excitement and reflect it back to them on such a momentous day. Assuring the grads that their education and training is a “colossal importance, of course,” Allen said that this catastrophic pandemic has made them grow up overnight and thus they are no longer students, but industry peers. 

Having started her tenure as Editor in Chief mere weeks before the attacks of September 11, 2001, Allen knows what it means to jumpstart a career in trying times. She told the grads that working in New York City at a then-New York centric magazine in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 “strengthened my resolve to be part of the solution.” “My life commitment became urgently clear: to be of service,” Allen said. Since then, she has used design to access the kingdom of creativity and problem solve, and asked graduates to consider how COVID-19 will change them as designers. 

“Wherever the changes may be, design will persevere,” Allen said as she began a brief overview of the industry. With roughly 112,000 registered designers, this multi-billion dollar industry currently has a ceiling that she is certain the class of 2020 will smash through. Regardless of expertise—be it architecture, landscaping, or interiors—there is room to innovate and grow. “I only cared if it moved the needle forward or if it moved me,” Allen said about the projects that come across her desk that she chooses to publish. 

Allen ended her speech with three key pieces of advice for the Class of 2020 as they prepare to make a career for themselves in this industry. First, “Stay current and learn from the past.” She urged everyone to study the works of a specific movement or figure they admire to learn from them. Community is everything when it comes to design, so beyond finding a mentor or great boss, “be good” Allen advised, referencing the virtues of morality, integrity, and virtuosity. “Goodness solves problems, it builds bridges,” she said, reassuring the grads (and probably their parents) that both creative and financial riches come from this attitude. Lastly, Allen reminded the class to listen to the voice that told them to go into design: “You have the soul of a maker… You hear the call and you answer.”  

Of course, a virtual graduation is not quite the same as a live event and Allen stressed that she would have loved to meet all the students and surely the graduates wanted to celebrate in-person together on this special day. But because of these exceptional circumstances, Allen is sure “the Class of 2020 will be a class of leaders, one destined to overcome and excel.”




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