Steve and I have had a crazy-busy month at work, packed with deadlines and commitments and high-octane brain requirements. On a daily basis we have had to remind each other to breathe. The last thing we needed was to take a day off to travel to our alma mater (which is also where we were married), attempt to impart wisdom to graduating seniors (the same age and interests as Kate, not to make it seem even more relevant or anything), and reflect on our careers and lives together. Turned out, that was exactly what we needed.
We were invited by one of our favorite professors to speak to the Chico design department as alumni, sharing the stories of our careers, and helping provide a vision to the students of how they might shape their own futures. This is a little funny since neither of us are actually design alumni. Steve was a Fine Arts major, who took a few design classes, and I was a Journalism major with only one design class under my belt (and later a design certificate from UC Extension–not exactly a heavyweight education for design). I’ve always felt as though I were chasing design, rather than driving it.
We were so tired as we drove up on Thursday morning that we barely spoke. It’s been nine years since we’ve made that drive north, and it hasn’t changed much in the thirty-three since we started the journey up Highway 99. It was green and fresh and beautiful. Live Oak, Biggs and East Biggs (the signs anyway), the orchards and Case Lupe. All there. I was remembering the first time I drove to Chico, with Jeff (a story with a sad ending, so we’ll save it for another day), and how excited we were to discover this place that was so different from anything we knew in southern California.
As we drove into town, Steve just about ran a red light. Everything was familiar, but different. The street where we lived, the pub where we met, and the campus. We made it to the basement of the library, which hasn’t changed, and met Gregg, Chris and Sandra (who briefly dated Steve’s roommate, has had her own successful design career and was joining us for the day) and eventually, the students.
I went first, and shared the back story of the studio, my pro bono and nonprofit work, and of course, everything I thought they needed to know about protocol in the workplace (say thank you). It was fun and energizing and kind of empowering to realize that I actually KNEW STUFF. It’s been a tricky few years for me career-wise, and somehow at this moment it felt like the path was becoming more stable and traversable. Perhaps even pleasant.
Steve went next, and shared the Nashville mural project (always a crowd-pleaser), one of our largest Intel projects and the current project-of-the-moment, the branding for the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame. Sandy followed Steve with her stories of studying with Paul Rand in Switzerland, working at Pentagram, and her current (own) company, designing high-end catalogs. Our three stories all seemed to fit and complement, and I hope, enable the students to see many paths are possible, especially if you use passion as your guide.
Gregg took us to Madison Bear Garden for lunch, and we were joined by Alan (a fellow student and now creative director for the university) and his wife, and Chris. The place is exactly the same as it was when it opened in 1977 when Steve and a few friends spent the summer painting a mural for the patio. The parking garage wall (with mural) is gone, but the hanging stagecoach, stale beer smell and Bear Burgers haven’t changed. The patio as warm and perfect…and I imagined the beer (a real one would have put me to sleep).
We spent the afternoon with a senior branding class, in a smaller round table setting, answering questions, pondering strategies for getting hired in a market where the minimum requirement is 5 years’ experience, and reviewing work. We talked about making your own experience, which left some of them puzzled. It also made me feel good and happy about Kate and how she is creating her experiences and future in Vancouver. Yes, that girl will be ok (and I called her from the car to tell her so, not that she didn’t already know).
If you knew me in school, you know how seriously weird it is for MY name to be in the design department. There were many extraordinary people from our class, talented folks who knew how to use their gifts, right away. I was kind of lost, jumping from major to major, until I landed in Communications, since that seemed to be the one place where my sociology, women’s studies, social welfare, psychology, and political science classes could all squeeze into a four-year degree.
There’s a Part Two to the story, and I will share that tomorrow, because we all have work to do. And I think that today I am approaching mine with a little more confidence and trust. My education has served me well…the one I got at Chico State, and the one I have been working on ever since.