President Somerson, Chairman Spalter, hon­ored guests, par­ents, fac­ul­ty and staff, and most impor­tant­ly grad­u­ates, thank you for the invi­ta­tion to your love-in

Work on what you love. This is such an easy thing to say, and it seems so obvi­ous. What else should we work on? What else could we work on? And yet the prob­lem of align­ing our pas­sion and our pro­duc­tion, our love and our work, remains one of the great life chal­lenges that we face as artists, as design­ers, and as citizens. 

Work on what you love. Protect your ener­gy and inno­cence, your beau­ty and thought. Protect your time and your mind, and give all that you can of these great trea­sures to the work you love the most. Work on what you love.

Starve the things that you do not respect, the things that you are against, that are against you. Give them noth­ing of your extra­or­di­nary tal­ent. Imagine a world where we all worked on the things we love the most. Imagine the beau­ty, and joy, and light, and happiness. 

You have the abil­i­ty to cre­ate, to imag­ine, to solve prob­lems and invent new ways of doing things. New ways of liv­ing. And most impor­tant­ly, new ways of think­ing. Dedicate all of your cre­ative ener­gy to the love of your life. When you dis­cov­er the love of your life, and that may have already hap­pened for you, you wake up every day with fresh eyes, fresh ears, fresh voice. Fresh ener­gy to expe­ri­ence and share your time on the plan­et in new ways. The love of your life will inspire you and move you, and draw the tal­ent and ener­gy from you in ways that you can­not imagine.

Work on what you love. Like love, the work is real, and it hap­pens in real time. There is no celebri­ty in the work. There is no fame, or track record, or resume in the work. The work does­n’t care what you’ve done before. The work is before us. The work is now. The work does­n’t fol­low you on Facebook. The work knows noth­ing of you. The work chal­lenges you and demands your best. Work on what you love.

Love is all you have to give. Love is our high­est pur­pose. Love is what this work and this world are all about. Love is what got you this far. Love is why you are. This is not about ideas or his­to­ry or intel­lec­tu­al con­structs, or crit­i­cal debates. Those things pre­pare you to love. Everything you’ve learned here at RISD is in prepa­ra­tion for a life of love. Love is what this is all about. Love makes us tick and tock. Work on what you love.

The work you love needs you. Real work needs opti­mism, pas­sion, and beau­ty. Real work needs a kind of ener­gy and com­mit­ment that only love can pro­duce. Don’t make the trag­ic mis­take of con­flat­ing crit­i­cal and neg­a­tive. We can­not afford the lux­u­ry of cyn­i­cism. You can­not afford the lux­u­ry of cynicism. 

Work on what you love. Give us your best, your pos­i­tive out­look, and opti­mistic ener­gy. Nothing else mat­ters when you love the work. When you work on what you love, be pre­pared to be loved. Be pre­pared to love the peo­ple who love you, the peo­ple all around you today, peo­ple who want to sup­port you, who want to invest in you, who want to see you fly. Be on the look­out for the peo­ple who are inspired by your ener­gy, who delight in your delight. You have to main­tain vig­i­lance and lis­ten care­ful­ly for the often-subtle sig­nals that your time for love has come.

As a young man start­ing out, I had a strange image in my mind that still remains. I imag­ined a thin, liv­ing, effer­ves­cent mem­brane that sur­rounds our entire plan­et. This thin mem­brane is a medi­um of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that car­ries only true love, and it is very, very, very thin. It is com­posed of par­ti­cles very very wide­ly dis­persed. Very far apart. But some­how able to con­nect and com­mu­ni­cate. I real­ized that the par­ti­cles that made up that liv­ing mem­brane of com­mu­ni­cat­ing love were peo­ple. People that were look­ing for me. People search­ing for the pas­sion and pur­pose and love that I was hold­ing. I was one of the par­ti­cles. And I was also look­ing for them and their love.

There were very few par­ti­cles in that spe­cial mem­brane of love. There was one in New York and one in Paris who togeth­er would invite me into a twenty-year col­lab­o­ra­tion. There was one in Los Angeles who would ask me to do things I’d nev­er done before. There was one in Rotterdam, and one in Tokyo, and one in Chicago, and one in Guatemala. There was one in Toronto who would mar­ry me and start an adven­ture that out­lives and out­loves all the oth­ers. I found the love I was look­ing for in that extra­or­di­nary, thin, effer­ves­cent membrane.

More impor­tant­ly, I found the love I had to give. Because I real­ized that the cur­ren­cy, the only infor­ma­tion that was accept­ed in that spe­cial dimen­sion was truth. Only truth could form the con­nec­tions in the net­work that would allow my pas­sion and love to be com­mu­ni­cat­ed. Only a puri­ty of intent, a pure sig­nal, an hon­est and clear expres­sion, would sur­vive the vast dis­tances across the mem­brane. As a con­se­quence, I have lived a life of love and beau­ty that I could not have imag­ined as a young man grow­ing up on a farm out­side of a min­ing town in Northern Canada.

I am per­haps the most for­tu­nate design­er of the last half cen­tu­ry. I’ve spent my life with artists and entre­pre­neurs, teach­ers and writ­ers, vision­ar­ies and inno­va­tors, imag­i­neers and philoso­phers. And I am wealthy beyond my wildest dreams, in the cur­ren­cies that have mean­ing for me. Love, truth, fam­i­ly, and beau­ty. I’ve made mis­takes along the way. And I see now that the com­mon denom­i­na­tor in every dis­as­ter was a move away from love, to com­pro­mise the truth, to work on things that I did not love. Fortunately, I was able to get back to the work and find the love again and again.

If you choose a life of love, and if you are here today grad­u­at­ing from RISD you have already made that choice, the plea­sures and trea­sures that lie ahead are untold. The pos­si­bil­i­ties of a life lived work­ing on the things you love are beyond descrip­tion. The chal­lenges you will face are the great­est oppor­tu­ni­ties in human history. 

At the same time you must know that you will encounter all sorts of peo­ple who have aban­doned their love along the way. They allowed their love to with­er and die, or they nev­er found love in the first place. They trad­ed their love for mon­ey. Or they set it down for a short time and for­got where it was and could­n’t find it again. They will be angry, and they will look at your fresh love as an indict­ment of their mis­takes. Your beau­ty will hold a mir­ror to their ugli­ness. They will see you as an exis­ten­tial­ist threat. Your being, your exis­tence, your move­ments, your life ener­gy stands as a cri­tique of their fail­ings. They will try to drag you down into the hole that they are in.

And so my advice to you is sim­ple. Be true to your love. Work on what you love. Never com­pro­mise your time and ener­gy. Never put out a fuzzy half-signal. Put our your unique, cre­ative ener­gy as pure and hon­est and clear, and as force­ful­ly as human­ly pos­si­ble for as long as you can pos­si­bly sus­tain it. And be pre­pared for the love all your life. 

Congratulations to the grad­u­at­ing class of Rhode Island School of Design 2014