VCFA MFA in Graphic Design Convocation Speech, October 2015

Ian Lynam
Ian Lynam
Nov 1, 2015 · 10 min read

This is a transcription of the opening speech that I gave at Vermont College of Fine Art’s October residency, just a few scant weeks ago. It is a literal Choose-Your-Own-Adventure speech. It is presented here in totality, as a number of the choices were not made, and I wanted to share this lecture in its totality.

photo by Silas Munro

Good Morning and Welcome to Vermont College of Fine Arts Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design’s Fall 2015 Convocation! I’m Ian Lynam, Chair of the program. Welcome Students, Program Staff, and distinguished guests. Welcome to our Senior Staff including Academic Dean, Matthew Monk.

A special thank you goes to Program Directrix Jennifer Renko who makes all in the residency possible!


A hearty welcome to our returning alumnus who has so graciously agreed to participate in this residency (drum roll banged out on lectern)…

Welcome, alumna, exhibition coordinator, residency assistant, and three-time world Jeet Kune Do champion Mary Hanrahan! Yay!

Welcome to our amazing faculty, Matt “Not My Fault” Monk, Tasheka “I Went All The Way to Montpelier, VT and All I Got Was This Crappy T-shirt” Arceneaux Sutton, Dave “Drop & Give Me 20!” Peacock, Silas “Yo, I Got More Gold Than C3PO” Munro, and Nikki “She-Hulk” Juen!


Two extra special salutations of welcome are due here.

I would like to welcome back faculty member Yoon Soo Lee after a semester off — Yoon Soo, it is so good to have you here.


I would also like to welcome our newest full faculty member, Lorena Howard Sheridan. Lorena has worked alongside us as a pinch hitter in the past, as well as a guest designer and critic, but she now joins us completely. Lorena, you make us complete — thank you and welcome.


Welcome to the class of Fall 2017: Matthew Barnes, Pierre Bowins, Ashley Calicchia, Paulina Johnson, Michael Ortega, Marisa Ten Brink, Chad Miller, Tim Bellard, Todd Hilgert, Ed Schneeflock, and Amelia Beard.


And to our returning students… AGAIN??? Jesus, get a job already…No, really, welcome back!!


OK, let’s get serious for a minute.

OK, let’s say that the moment you all walked into this hall, you entered a time/space machine.

Let’s set the date for June 18, 2015 at 2:21pm JST. Let’s set the location for the Hatagaya neighborhood in Shibuya-ku in Tokyo, more specifically 3–75–3 Hatagaya.

Once we arrive and put on our invisibility cloaks, we’d exit and enter the house very quietly and carefully, trying not to bump into anyone or disrupt the space/time continuum. We’d use our skeu-o-endoskeleton key to get in the house in front of us, and we creep up to the second floor, then all pack into the kitchen, leaving just enough space to observe the past me, Ian Lynam, languidly pacing back and forth in my kitchen, waiting for the espresso maker on the stovetop to finish its job and thinking about what to do with the rest of my day.

I could:

A. Create a proposal for a potential client,

B. Finish a typeface design for a band I love,

C. Respond to a question asked of me in an interview that I am doing with Nikki Juen for Perpetual Beta, the VCFA blog,

D. Create another proposal, a comparison study of coffee shops in North America, Australasia, and Europe,


E. Sit on the balcony and write a short speech for convocation at the next VCFA residency.

Given the context here and now, the option chosen was obviously E.

Afterward, we get back in our Time/Space Machine and travel back to the present moment.

While this narrative is very silly, this is one of the things I love about residency. Allowing ourselves to be silly, and allowing ourselves choices. Residency is very much a physical/temporal choose-your-own-adventure book that we get to act out together.

I think it would be really fun if we collectively play-acted out a bit of how this week is going to go, just like a choose-your-own-adventure book. So, what I’m going to do is to ask for your help. Throughout the rest of this narrative, I will need your help in deciding which way we will proceed. While the main point of all of this is to be entertaining and hopefully inspiring, what I really hope is that it will give the latest members of our program as rich a sense as possible of what the VCFA MFA Program in Graphic Design has to offer.

The thing is, I really wrote this as a choose-your-own adventure book, so if we’re not careful, we could get stuck in a temporal loop (meaning we are here for hours on end), we could die, or that fate worse than death, we. might. not. graduate.

So, let’s dive in, shall we?

We’re still in the time machine, mind you. Do we set the controls for:

A. Ten minutes ago?

B.Ten minutes from now?

C. Thirty minutes from now?

OK, great. We walk out of the room, and immediately it is obvious that something has gone wrong. There is a German/Swiss master typographer calling himself “Jan Tschichold” in a white lab coat facing us at the top of the stairs. We recognize him because there is only one really widely-known photo of him and in that photo he is holding himself like this:

(mimic Tschichold gesture and hold up print of Tschichold photo)

For some reason, he is doing this gesture right now!

The other big problem is that Jan Tschichold died in 1974, so we know that some member of our team really screwed up the time/space continuum on that trip back to earlier this year.

Whose fault was it?

A. Dean Matthew Monk

B. Faculty Tasheka Arceneaux Sutton


C. VCFA Thesis student Jason Alejandro

It doesn’t matter whose fault it is… JASON

What do we do about Jan Tschichold? He wants to drag us over to the library to look over books about typography and critique the state of typography today!

Do we:

A. Follow him

B. Run


C. Bludgeon him about the head with a blunt instrument?

(alternate possibilities)

B. We run, but there he is again — either a clone or another Tschichold from another temporal stream at the opposite end of the hall! We can’t run, because he’s at both ends of the hall!

C. We beat him to death, but another Jan Tschichold strolls up and says “tisk, tisk”, shaking his head and holding himself like in the famous photo — we quickly look behind us and there’s either a clone or another Tschichold from another temporal stream at the opposite end of the hall! We can’t run, because he’s at both ends of the hall!

(resulting in further alternate possibilities)

Do we:

A. Follow him

B. Jump out the windows


C. Bludgeon this one about the head with a blunt instrument, too?

(resulting in further alternate possibilities)

A. We follow Jan Tschichold, his lab coat swaying in the wind ever so gently as we walk to the library. We enter to find the rotting, reanimated corpse of legendary graphic designer Paul Rand already herkily-jerkily tearing books off the shelves in disgust at the sheer amount of self-expression contained within. The only books that seem to be safe are the ones about him!

B. We are somehow not allowed to kill ourselves — there is something really Catholic in all of this somehow, and we are magically teleported back to where we were prior to jumping out the windows.

(resulting in further alternate possibilities)

Do we:

A. Bludgeon him about the head with a blunt instrument?

B. Bludgeon this one about the head with a blunt instrument and then light his corpse on fire?


C. Ask VCFA Librarian Jim Nolte what to do?

(we can go around and around here stuck in a temporal loop, but inevitably, everyone will have to choose “C”)

C. Jim screams, “I GOT THIS!!!” runs to the top of the stairs, throws on his skis and slaloms down the stairs past the stacks to the secret dungeon room where he’s had fake PostModernist David Carson locked up for the past decade-plus. Carson comes lunging up the stairs and hurls himself as powerfully as he can for a dude that smokes weed 24–7 at Zombie Paul Rand. The two grapple as dessicated aging surfer flesh and rotting zombie flesh fly through the air.

Do we:

A. Run

B. Run


C. Run?

We hightail it back to College Hall, run up the flight of stairs into the Chapel, and pant heavily (get everyone to pant along from onstage) until the time in which Nikki Juen mounts the stage with a graceful leap and says:

“At every convocation, we present the incoming students with gifts — wildly specific gifts…”

The faculty rise and face the students and offer the gifts (except for faculty member Dave Peacock — he pockets the gift and just gives the student he’s facing a handshake and then goes and hocks the gift).

Nikki then finishes her statement:

“… This gift is the loupe, a magnifying lens which we give to you in the hope that you will look closer — at your practice, at your discipline, and most importantly, at yourselves”.


(Nikki actually throws Ian some shit as she sits down about the patriarchy and Ian says some shit like “Whatever, bitch, I’m a feminist”, then raises his ‘power’ fist meekly and glowers, then Nikki sits and they flip each other off, and pretend to be professional for 3 seconds, then Nikki takes her shoe off and throws it at Ian and he just takes it and murmurs, “fuck…” weakly.)

(*Note: the thrown shoe just barely missed my face!)

OK, since we’re giving gifts, the faculty would like to present gifts to the people who do the most to make our residencies happen, our Program Director Jennifer Renko and the newest member of our family, Assistant Program Director Jennifer Skinder!

Last residency, Jenn Renko got locked out of her office by a ghost or a breeze, and this led to me feebly attempting to pick the lock on the door and Silas Munro climbing out the fricking window and skirting the building on the 4th floor. Very, very dangerous and not recommended! So, in honor of this moment in the time/space continuum and acknowledging the presence of ghosts in this building (Yes, it IS haunted!), we present Jennifer Renko with this: her very own set of lockpicking tools so that she never has to call facilities to have her office doorknob removed ever again!

Jenn has worked incredibly hard — as always — to make this residency what it is going to be. Jenn, thank you. (applause)

To our new Assistant Program Director Jennifer Skinder (bated pause)… We don’t know you yet. You’re new. Here’s a nickel. (flick her a nickel)

Let’s all give Jennifer a round of applause!


And since we’re still on this whole gift-giving theme, we have the choice of:

A. Allowing the President of the graduating class, Yael Campbell, to present the school with a gift and speak about it.

B. Not allowing her speak and refusing the gift.


C. Wandering outside and trying to find Jan Tschichold again.

(Of course, everyone will choose A.)

OK, Yael, here you go!

(Yael speaks and presents the university with their class gift of a fooseball table emblazoned with our program’s mascot, The Fighting Tears, a Kleenex box with boxing gloves designed by alumnus Brian Bednarski.)

(And then, Ian gets serious.)

While this is all very silly, going to graduate school is a giant decision in life — it really, really is a choose-your-own adventure novel, and one that is as hair-raising as those we experienced as kids, yet fraught with the perils of adulthood. Graduate school is an investment — yes, you are — quite literally — investing your money, but you are moreso investing your time — part of your life, and as we all know, we have a limited amount of time on this planet, and every moment of it is valuable.

I would like to honor you for taking that risk.

Please look around you. You are surrounded by people who are now your peers, and if not already, your friends. And to you, and to those that surround you, returning students, staff and faculty alike, I say this, and know that I mean it:

Every one of you has value — intrinsic, inextractable, utterly unique value. Not because of your potential — the world is fuuuuull of potential — but because of WHO. YOU. ARE.

Alright, alright, that’s it for the inspirational shit from my end. Sorry for all the pomp and circumstance, but I feel a great affinity for everyone in this room and just needed to get all that out there.

So now in this choose-your-own-adventure novel, we do what we do every convocation at VFCA, and we read a poem, but who reads it is up to you. Is it:

A. Me

B. faculty member Silas Munro


C. Academic Dean and faculty member Matthew Monk?

(*Note: Unbeknownst to me, Silas and Matt have created a poem to be read together, so this worked out very, very serendipitously!)

Silas and Matt?

(Silas and Matt read)

(Afterward, we all hug, then they look at me sullenly like I’m actually an idiot and shakes their heads as they walk offstage…)

“So folks, welcome to Vermont College of Fine Arts Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design’s Fall 2015 Residency. It’s only going to get weirder from here. Thank you.”


Ian Lynam

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Ian Lynam

is a graphic designer, design teacher and writer residing in Tokyo. More: