Bruce Mau’s Commencement Address: RISD, 2014

Chairman Spalter, President Somerson, Congressman Cicilline, Mayor Taveras, honored guests, faculty and staff, friends and family, and most importantly, Graduates, thank you for the honor of addressing you today. 

Work on what you love.

This is such an easy thing to say and it seems so obvious. What else should we work on? What else could we work on?

And yet, the problem of aligning our passion and our production — our love and our work — remains one of the great life challenges that we face as artists, as designers, and as citizens.

Work on what you love.

Protect your energy and innocence, your beauty and thought. Protect your time and your mind and give all that you can of these great treasures to the work you love the most.

Work on what you love.

Starve the things you do not respect, the things that you are against — that are against you. Give them nothing of your extraordinary talent.

Imagine a world where we all worked on the things we love the most. Imagine the beauty and joy and light and happiness.

You have the ability to create, to imagine, to solve problems and invent new ways of doing things, new ways of living, and most importantly, new ways of thinking.

Dedicate all of your creative energy to the love of your life.

When you discover the love of your life, and that may have already happened for you, you wake up every day with fresh eyes, fresh ears, fresh voice — fresh energy to experience and share your time on the planet in new ways.

The love of your life will inspire you and move you and draw the talent and energy from you in ways that you cannot imagine.  

Work on what you love.

Like love, the work is real and it happens in real time. There is no celebrity in the work. There is no fame or track record or resume in the work. The work doesn’t care what you have done before. The work is before us. The work is now.

The work doesn’t follow you on Facebook. The work knows nothing of you. The work challenges you and demands your best.

Work on what you love.

Love is all you have to give. Love is our highest purpose. Love is what this work and this world are all about.

Love is what got you this far.
Love is why you are.

This is not about ideas or history or intellectual constructs or critical debates.

Those things prepare you to love.

Everything you have learned here at RISD is in preparation for a life of love.

Love is what this is all about.
Love makes us tick and talk.
Work on what you love.

Give us your best, your positive outlook and optimistic energy. Nothing else matters when you love the work.

The work you love needs you. Real work needs optimism, passion and beauty.

Real work needs a kind of energy and commitment that only love can produce.

Don’t make the tragic mistake of conflating critical and negative.

We cannot afford the luxury of cynicism.
You cannot afford the luxury of cynicism.

Work on what you love. Give us your best, your positive outlook and optimistic energy. Nothing else matters when you love the work.

When you work on what you love, be prepared to be loved.

Be prepared to love the people who love you — who want to support you, who want to invest in you, who want to see you fly.

Be on the look out for the people who are inspired by your energy, who delight in your delight.

You have to maintain vigilance and listen carefully for the often-subtle signals that your time for love has come.

As a young man starting out I had a strange image in my mind that still remains.

I imagined a thin living effervescent membrane that surrounds our entire planet. This thin membrane is a medium of communication that carries only true love.

And it is very, very, very thin.

It is composed of particles very, very widely dispersed, very far apart, but somehow able to connect and communicate. I realized that the particles that made up that living membrane of communicating love were people; people that were looking for me, people searching for the passion and purpose and love that I was holding.

I was one of the particles and I was also looking for them and their love.

There were very few particles in that special membrane of love — there was one in New York and one in Paris who together would invite me into a twenty-year collaboration.

There was one in Los Angeles who would ask me to do things I had never done before. There was one in Rotterdam and one in Tokyo and one in Guatemala and one in Chicago.

There was one in Toronto who would marry me and start an adventure that out lives and out loves all the others.

I found the love I was looking for in that extraordinary thin effervescent membrane.

More importantly I found the love I had to give. Because I realized that the currency, the only information that was accepted in that special dimension, was truth. Only truth could form the connections in the network that would allow my passion and love to be communicated.

The currency, the only information that was accepted in that special dimension, was truth.

Only a purity of intent, a pure signal, an honest and clear expression would survive the vast distances across the membrane.

As a consequence, I have lived a life of love and beauty that I could not have imagined as a young man growing up on a farm outside of a mining town in Northern Canada.

I am perhaps the most fortunate designer of the last half-century. I’ve spent my life with artists and entrepreneurs, teachers and writers, visionaries and innovators, Imagineers and philosophers.

I am wealthy beyond my wildest dreams — in the currencies that have meaning for me — love, truth, family and beauty.

Oh, I’ve made mistakes along the way. And I see now that the common denominator in every disaster was a move away from love. To compromise the truth. To work on things that I did not love.

Fortunately, I was able to get back to the work and find the love again and again.

If you choose a life of love (and if you are here today graduating from RISD you have already made that choice) the pleasures and treasures that lie ahead of you are untold. The possibilities of a life lived working on the things you love, are beyond description. The challenges you will face are the greatest opportunities in human history.

At the same time, you must know that you will encounter all sorts of people who have abandoned their love along the way.

They allowed their love to wither and die or they never found love in the first place. They traded their love for money, or they set it down for a short time and forgot where it was and couldn’t find it again.

They will be angry and they will look at your fresh love as an indictment of their mistakes.

Your beauty will hold a mirror to their ugliness.

They will see you as an existential threat. Your being, your existence, your movement, your life energy — stands as a critique of their own failings.

They will try to drag you down into the hole that they are in.

*             *             *

And so my advice to you is simple: be true to your love. Work on what you love. Never compromise your time and energy. Never put out a fuzzy half signal.

Put out your unique creative energy as pure and honest and clear and as forcefully as humanly possible, for as long as you can possibly sustain it.

And be prepared for the love of your life.

*             *             *

Congratulations to the graduating class of Rhode Island School of Design, 2014!

Bruce Mau is the cofounder of the Massive Change Network, LLC and Bruce Mau Live, LLC. His 25 years of experience in design innovation has included collaborations with many of the world’s leading organizations. He is the Chairman Emeritus and Founder of Bruce Mau Design and a Senior Fellow of the Design Futures Council.