Grad school 4x ROI: 20-Minute Essay

Since high school AP english, I’ve been to graduate school 4 times. And yet, I only have one degree, to show for it.

I have not flunked or dropped out—though I feel like I have 1,000 times. A part of me felt (and continues to feel) the need for much schooling and learning. That part of me all ways feels like I should know more, or do more study. That what I am is not enough, that I some how didn’t retain it all. I am learning to find that I am, that I have. I think that’s why I enjoy teaching, to stay in that constant learning environment. To import knowledge, but also to continue to find new knowledge — through others and myself.

My first pass at a kind of higher education was not an actual graduate school, but a year-long Fellowship in Graphic Design at the Walker Art Center. I learned that a progressive cultural institution plus being close to family can do wonders for a hungry design aficionado. I wanted more.

After a few years of work in the field, my second foray was an official MFA in Graphic Design at CalArts. At the end of at my first “official” year as a grad student of actually not passing. A temporary incomplete in my spring seminar class came from a combination of my quest to take on a load of 21-credits, while teaching a community based art class for high school students, whilst doing freelance projects, and all at the same time trying ever-so-hard to be the best-in-class. I was trying to build myself up from the outside in. I made up work that summer and came back with a strong finish on my thesis in the second year. Still, I wanted more.

My third trip to a kind of grad school was as the Designer-In-Residence at NC State. I was granted this gift to teach, learn to teach with other more experienced teachers, and make work in a completely new context. Instead of a museum or art school, this was a full-on research university. I was a humble sponge as I learned whole new foreign languages of design and design research. Still, I wanted more.

My last trip to grad school is on-going. I currently Co-Chair and teach at Vermont College of Fine Arts, a unique, low-residency MFA program in graphic design. Between the diverse faculty and students in yet another different learning environment betwixt the physical and digital realms, I am learning something all the time. This is going to sound cheezy, but I dare go there: I’m learning that life is a kind grad school. The names, and the places, and the pieces of paper matter less than the way I stay open, stay at my edge, and risk to stay teachable, to stay learning.

I can’t promise I’ll never be in school again. The wanting more is still there, but now it has a higher purpose. Hopefully an exponential one.

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