Announcing 2021 Valedictorian: Isabella Reynolds

6 January 2022

Master of Architecture graduate, Isabella Reynolds was named Valedictorian at the EAIT Faculty Graduation on Wednesday 15 December 2021.  Read Isabella's speech below.  

"Chancellor, Members of the University Senate, members of the University Senior Leadership Group, Guest Speaker, distinguished guests and graduates. Thank you to friends, partners and parents that are thrilled (and no doubt relieved) to be here.

If UQ has taught me anything, it is to 'Google'. To Google - the verb of the 21st century; key to every student's success. In preparing for today, I have searched and listened to a lot of graduation speeches and noticed that most have these elements: intro, joke, personal oversharing, something about creativity, failure, success, and unsolicited advice. So, I'll dutifully follow this structure, because if UQ taught me anything else it's to signpost my work.

Today, we are celebrating an ending, years of hard work - sweat, tears and possibly more than a few panic attacks. But today I am looking at a crowd of winners. Our strength, tenacity, grit and optimism have pulled us through the last few years. This is no small achievement. Congratulations to every one of you. 

Education is a tool that allows us to steer the trajectory of our lives. It's often what we turn to when we seek change. 

I have two parents who are practicing visual artists. They're big advocates for creativity, and have always encouraged the pursuit of curiosity, ideas and discovery through practice. So, when I left high school with a tenuous commitment to study law, they gave me advice many parents wouldn't dream of: "If it doesn't work out with law you can always become a painter". 

Two weeks before enrolment closed, I switched out of Law and into a Visual arts degree. I learnt a lot, but it wasn't the occupational answer I was looking for. Making art is about making mistakes, and learning from all of them. But I didn't want to do that. I wanted to plan extensively and obsessively, then execute that plan once. It turns out that this is the strategy of the entire field of architecture, because, weirdly, most clients don't give you a second try at their building.

It took me two years and three different cities to figure out that detailed planning and time intensive execution isn't quite the same thing as good art. This finally sunk in when someone said, "If you're making art like a designer, why not just work in design?" I resigned myself to 6 years of Architecture School and (while I can't say it's all been smooth sailing) I have no regrets. 

I think that learning is, in part, knowing when to really listen to someone's advice. In the 21st century we're inundated with information, and a lot of it is wrong, or ever in flux or within The Humanities, guaranteed to be contradicted by another source.

University teaches us to find and value our own perspectives and how these perspectives navigate the history of our discipline and engage with those of our peers. The key is knowing when to let new information change your opinion, your trajectory, your feelings, your empathy, and when not to. Now that we're leaving university, we can lean into this sort of unquantified learning no longer subject to a rating out of seven. Here are some things that I have learned by listening in my six years at UQ:

  • Firstly, I have learned that it's best practice to find and nurture hope within criticality. That is, criticality without positivity, generosity or a call to action is a lazy route. Criticality can and should move us forward by encouraging what is working as much as what isn't. This approach strikes me as pertinent today, in relation to the current cultural and environmental conditions locally and internationally, that require us to consolidate criticality with optimism and action. 
  • Secondly, in my experience, worry has about a 10% conversion rate into action. So, try to worry less, and act more, even during your downtime - read a book, make filter coffee, sew, play Mario kart, have a nap, call your mates. Scroll less. It's not a race we're in, but a journey, and sprinting just leads to burnout. We might feel like we're behind but we're not - we're exactly where we should be. 
  • Lastly, as graduates of a world class university, we are extraordinarily lucky, and can't take total credit for our successes. As many of the philosophy department will tell you, we are products of the intricate and dense material of history - including the deep injustices of colonialism and capitalism and more personal narratives of community and care. It is our responsibility when we experience success to recognise this and bring others with us. 

Moving on from unsolicited advice though, congratulations are especially owed to those of you who persevered through your studies without financial or family support, while caring for others, through mental health challenges or physical differences. We have come so far. To conclude, I'll leave you with the best graduation advice I could find online, from Kurt Vonnegut - wear sunscreen. Thanks Google."

Isabella Reynolds