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Convocational Speech for University of Houston College of Architecture

Michael Rotondi Convocational Speech


Dean Mashburn, Faculty and Students, Soon to be alumni, family and friends-

I am pleased and honored to be here with you today, to give you my thoughts on what it means to end one phase of life and begin another. I have been a teacher for many years, and have witnessed many graduations. I have a profound belief that teaching and learning, which begins at the moment of birth, is the most fundamental activity of our species.

A graduation ceremony is one of the best times for everyone. There are no complaints for the next three hours. Best time to be a dean, for sure.

To be able to teach is a gift.

To be among students with such enthusiasm, motivation and innocence is a reaffirmation of something right and

true in the world.

My colleagues at the University of Houston are committed to nurturing this. I saw the exhibit of student work a year ago at accreditation and it was impressive-- I felt the positive form of jealousy, which is defined as sympathetic joy.

Graduation is honoring Completion and Commencement is celebrating a Beginning. All of you are on a threshold.

I want to encourage you to be steadfast in staying on the trajectory you are currently on. And, as you grow older,

recollect this moment, which is quintessentially one of great promise.

A. The Promise of Youth With its ideals and optimism which keeps you believing that anything imaginable is possible.

B. The Promise of Architecture Which gives form to life in the most positive ways. Which keeps you believing that through architecture, it is possible to make the world a better place.

C. The Promise of Humanity (NOTE: the audience applauded here...surprised) Which is to make choices moment to moment that reaffirms your faith that we are inherently good and generous. That our imprint is to be ALTRUISTIC. A SUBTLE PASSION FOR GOOD.

So this is what I wrote for you All of you who are the winds at my back.

The real people of ancient time, said that ESSENCE and LIFE should both be cultivated.

So, this work requires 2 stages: The path of cultivating LIFE, is The path of doing / of action. The path of cultivating ESSENCES is The path of non-doing / contemplation The path of doing, is prolonging life, through creative activity while in communion with others. The path of non-doing is making the being whole, by quieting the mind and, stilling the body while in solitude. Both are essential.

Our work, as architects, practicing in many different ways, incorporates both these aspects and exists in two realms: In solitude and in community.

The creative moment is an intimate and private moment. We are alone in suspended animation. We are in the zone of creation.

In BETWEEN all of the extremes In BETWEEN one place and another. -One thing and another -One event and another Where there is stillness and silence ideas emerge and most significantly,

This is where new life emerges.

This is the Horizon- The threshold where the sky and earth became one. As the Lakota Sioux say, this is where you cry for a VISION.

VISION is the blessing of FORESIGHT- seeing the future w/ greater purpose. and its twin blessing is INSIGHT- which has the power of penetrating, to a deeper reality within. This is where you discover yourself in A UNITY of thought will understanding and compassion that goes beyond words, beyond analysis, even beyond conscious thought.

As Thomas Merton said, "In this moment, We come face to face with ourselves in the lonely ground of our being. we confront many questions. The value of our existence, The value of our commitments The authenticity of our everyday lives. What we may discover, (As Paul Tillich said,) is the 'Courage to be' as we are, not as we think we should be we discover our own voice, our sense of purpose."

What is your sense of purpose? The first serious question. Might be: 1. Who am I, and what is my role and responsibilities in the world? 2. What type of life do I want for myself, and my children's children? There is an ancient Native American traditional time scale for all significant choices, of 7 generations, not 7 years. (the real estate cycle) 3. What type of society do I idealize? 4. To paraphrase Suzuki Roshi, can I retain the courage and intelligence of a beginner's mind, the mind you had as a student, that sees almost infinite possibilities and imagines all of them to be possible, and not become the 'expert' who sees few possibilities?

As we get older, the key to this place of optimism is to suspend disbelief and re-enter the zone where innocence, wonder and enchantment reside. Where extreme intelligence is not preconditioned or pre-judged or pre-determined by prior experience that tries to remind us of all our mistakes. Be reminded of your discoveries not your mistakes face forward as you move forward.

Be reminded of worlds within worlds all existing simultaneously, at all sizes and scales, with their own cycles and rhythms. That entrain through harmonic oscillation, into greater wholes. INTERDEPENDENCE. UNITY AND DIVERSITY. The integrity of each part is sustained as the greater whole is forming. This is an aesthetic and a social model. This is the world that you have imagined up until now. I know this because, it is the one I imagined when I was your age. And I know of the struggle to retain it. You are the one; that can still imagine and actually participate in manifesting a society, a world, That is a new cosmology. One that is based in values of joy respect compassion and generosity.

To try and make a world like this, requires FAITH in yourself and others.

So, in fact faith is an essential pre-condition for creativity to truly be present. 'Why do we create?' This is an open question that is provisionally answered by experiencing the act itself. One of my provisional answers is:

"We experience the most profound separation, and sense of alienation, when we are born from the womb into the world. Our creative work,

which is predicated on integrating diverse

and disparate things, the abstractness of ideas or the concrete-ness of matter, with the belief, That this is our way of making sense of the world and our relationships with each other.

This is a way of re-connecting of belonging to a greater whole.”

This makes me feel that, We do our work, not for ourselves, but for each other. Although we have our visions, when we are in solitude, when we are alone, we discover, by going deep into the realm of the unknown, that we are in fact, ONE.

We have always been ONE But we imagine that we are not. What we recover in this moment of insight is our original unity, as Merton said, the one that we lived prior to birth.

This is what we can bring into the world and work, to give form to it.

Vision is individually born, but community realized This is the responsibility, we have to ourselves and to our families to our communities and to the world.

We are concerned about many things, above all our very existence. But, in contrast to other creatures, humans are continually evolving through conscious existence. We have a great capacity for choice. We can choose poorly and suffer, yet we can learn. But, I believe the whole purpose of the human story is to learn the good. We self correct onto the path of right choice, which is to choose life. It is a slow process as we have, to be patient and practice forbearance.

Any age is measured not merely by technological proficiency or advancement. It is measured by the quality of human conduct and social relations By some measures we are living in a dark age. But there is great wonder that lies within-- The wonder of compassion, generosity and sacrifice. We have been witness to this.

My question is why, this imprint of altruism, which expresses such extreme value towards life, is not present everyday.

It is times like these, that bring forth the latent powers that are within us. The power that comes from our capacity to choose the good, and bring it forth into the world.

Each of you, in varying degree, is on the path of what indigenous people call the 4 fold way. The way of the warrior The way of the visionary The way of the teacher The way of the healer.

The quest historically was to bring forth each of these and nurture them.

They all have equal status and significance. If you experience this type of wholeness, you then can see yourself as part of a greater whole, as some one who feels responsible to others, and senses the joy that comes from being generous and compassionate. At various times, you will need to be all of them separately or simultaneously.

If this happens, then you will experience what is called the infinite power of the 'common ground of being' ---------simply stated, love.

From this threshold, the one that you are on at this very moment, until your consciousness is released from your body you have the opportunity to give form to life, through architecture.

All of us, who stand witness to your rite of passage Say, with pride and love,

'We wish you well'

Your future, is the future, of the human race.

PEACE. Michael Rotondi Houston 10 May 2003


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