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  • RE: Regrets, Reflections and Rewards

    All those words that begin with re seem intended to return us to a different time in our lives. Taking their cues, here I go looking back.

    Regrets. Comes from the old Norse word “to weep” and the French regreter, to mourn. Well, I mourn and weep over a lot of things. Some of them silly, some of them profound. Overall my regrets have always come when I haven't been prepared like I should have been. Fortunately, there haven't too, too many of those times, but when they happen, I say to myself, “You must learn to be prepared for anything.” Because, sure enough, anything happens. Like the time I had to figure out how to modify a stairway in a two-story exhibit in Chicago's McCormick Place at 1:30 a.m. with a cranky and tired union crew. I knew I should have studied structural engineering before designing a space frame exhibit. Bucky Fuller came to my rescue (at least in my head he did).

    Reflections. Now, back to 1981, when I began teaching at Art Center College of Design. I had been invited to join the faculty by the wonderful Paul Hauge, then chair of graphic design. He saw the work I was doing and thought I could teach a class in exhibition graphics. Little did Paul know that from the time I was 12 until I went to college, I worked in a nursery school (talk about good preparation for teaching at an art school). The Wagon Wheel Nursery School—founded in Los Angeles in the early 1950s by a brilliant early childhood educator—was indeed my training ground for teaching. It taught me patience, storytelling, understanding and the realization that you have to repeat things many times until it sinks in. Of course, I said yes to Paul. I actually told him that I loved to give crazy hard art assignments to the Cheerios (as the 4- and 5-year-olds were called). We didn't do the usual handprint turkeys that preschoolers usually bring home to put on the refrigerator; we did full-on 3-D paper sculptures. Actually, that's where I learned how cool paper was and that you could do amazing things by folding, gluing and twisting it. Watch Frank Gehry make models sometime and you'll know what I mean.

    While at Art Center, I was the recipient of a brand new faculty award, one that is given by the students to someone in each major. The award was conferred with these words: With the perspective of eight terms, the graduating students in Graphics/Packaging award this certificate of recognition and appreciation to youfor having made an extraordinary contribution to our education... I remember getting the call notifying me that I was going to be the first graphic design faculty member to receive this recognition. It provided me a moment that I often reflect upon with both pride and humility. That it happened two more times puts me on the edge of cocky, but I quickly catch myself.

    Having taught for all these years, I now have former students from those early days who are teachers here at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Some of my current students are students of those students—a veritable family tree of teaching. Many of my students have gone on to do amazing things, which calls to mind the way they were as students. To teach is to learn, and I know how much I have learned from the wonderful students whom I have had over the years. It's funny, once you have taught someone, there seems to be a special bond that occurs. You know the struggles and see the success, and you know the part you played in that triumph—which brings me to the next word in this exercise.

    Rewards. Life is a constant source of joy and struggle, and looking for rewards doesn't usually produce any results. The best rewards come when they are least expected or sought after. Like hearing from a former student who tells you with wild delight that they got a wonderful job thanks to your help or how much your teaching meant to them. So by now, I have taught a few thousand students. Because of nature's gift of a good memory for faces and names, I remember them all (so don't ask me for a list of all my former students, because I just might give it to you). That collection of wonderful people is the biggest reward of all.

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