Commencement 2018: Beginnings, endings and live oaks

Commencement 2018 was a jubilant celebration of the newest Tulane School of Architecture graduates. I know these individuals will waste no time making an impact in the fields of architecture, preservation and real estate development with their creativity, compassion and dedication.

The ceremony was much more than a conferring of diplomas. We honored two retiring faculty members, John Klingman and Grover Mouton, for their decades of inspired teaching. We presented awards to students who demonstrated outstanding leadership, scholarship and involvement over their time at Tulane. The graduating class recognized Professor Richard Campanella for his commitment to students with the Malcolm Heard Award for Excellence in Teaching. Professor Klingman delivered an eloquent graduation address, and Paul Holmes gave the audience a taste of the ups and downs of architecture school in his student speech.

This was my final commencement as dean, so it held a special poignancy for me. Below is an excerpt of my closing remarks to the crowd of happy graduates, proud parents and loyal friends. Thank you to the entire Tulane School of Architecture community for making the past 10 years a true joy.

“When I arrived in the summer of 2008, I was struck by the majestic beauty of the trees on our campus, in Audubon Park, on St. Charles Avenue and indeed throughout the entire city of New Orleans. I moved in to my office that summer and there seemed to be an obvious gap – something missing right outside my office window. I spoke with the university architect, and that fall, the university planted a young live oak. I have had the thrilling privilege of looking at it again this afternoon, noticing how it has grown to nearly fill the void.

A tree is a powerful metaphor for growth and life – and a useful one for education and your careers ahead. Grounded in the soil, stabilized and nourished by its system of roots, and reaching for the sky with grace and beauty, it is also a bio filter and sequesters carbon. It takes the conditions around it, and it makes everything better, more protected and sheltered.

It is a complex biological phenomenon that expresses itself with great simplicity and elegance at the same time. I hope your careers and lives are much like the tree outside my office. During your time here, you too have grown, expanding your reach, providing shade and shelter and a primal connection to the earth and sky.

I end every year with a wonderful sense of hope for great things to come in your lives and careers. I hope you are as fortunate as I have been in taking your Tulane experience forward to achieve good things as professionals and engaged citizens - for the benefit of your community, your families and the world as a whole.”

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