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Class of 2020 Address by Dean Nancy Pollock-Ellwand

CLASS OF 2020, congratulations on what you are achieving here today. With what I am calling your unique advantage! Completing one leg of a journey, fueled by your talent, your passion, your hard work—and,  as we’ve learned these last few months—your resilience.

Nancy Pollock-Ellwand

I believe it is a creative act to be resilient. Whether your discipline is architecture, landscape architecture, real estate development, the sustainable built environments or urban planning, you are all creators.

Your charge now is to move that creativity forward. To build a more resilient world. Are you ready for that future? I believe you are more ready than any class before you!

But before talking about your future, let me tell you a story of resilience, creativity and life.

You may know this building: the Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Spain. It is a structure which is indelibly linked with the famous designer of iconic buildings, sculptures and landscapes, Antoni Gaudí, who took over the project in 1883. Key parts of this structure (the façade and crypt) were inscribed as a World Heritage site and recognized as being universally significant to all of humanity. And yet it is still unfinished.

Gaudí knew this project, like all cathedrals before, would not be completed in his lifetime. He worked 43 years on the project. Did Gaudí know in 1883, at the age of 31 and only five years after earning his architecture degree, that he would design and build one of the most iconic buildings in the world?

Yes, I think he did.

Sangrada Familia

View of Sagrada Família from Placa de Gaudí. The construction cranes have been digitally removed.
Photo by C. Messier, courtesy Wikimedia.

He was inspired to adopt his organic and original approach to architecture—his work defies gravity. He created its impossible curving columns and vaults and ethereal decorative surfaces.

Gaudí was resilient up until the very end. The cathedral was poorly funded, and of course controversial because of it unprecedented design.

The project, like its creator was, remains resilient. It has survived the shocks of the Spanish Civil War, when its crypt was set on fire and Gaudí’s workshop was looted. Through decades of effort—a world war, economic downturn and political change—the innovative and still controversial work continues today.

Which brings me to a question we all must ask ourselves, this year in particular and as we move forward: How do we innovate in the face of life’s challenges? How do we keep ourselves disciplined through change—sometimes radical change?

Even three months ago, no one could have expected the transformations we have been through—we as a college, as a campus and as a society—due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

And yet we have! And in particular, today, all of you have. It wasn’t easy I know. But this is what creativity demands—the ability to adapt, the ability to change.

Class of 2020: Continue to transform —just as Gaudí transformed, and just as the architects and builders transform as the work on the Sagrada Família continues.

Are we stronger for that change? Absolutely.

We probably say, every year, that the graduating class is the most prepared class ever—ready for an exciting if uncertain future. It is not an exaggeration; it’s true.

Class of 2020, you have endured, not just a global pandemic, but made a sudden shift from on-campus to online classes, felt the loss of in-person social connections—connections we know are so critical in your studies. There are also other stories of financial hardship; and perhaps worries about your health, and the ones you love. So you truly are the most tested, most prepared graduating class in our history. And that resiliency gives you a foundation you will have for the rest of your careers. It is your unique advantage. It will be your source of courage when life presents more challenges, as well as opportunities.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit Sagrada Família, in fact to have a special tour with one of the lead architects, Mark Burry. I was invited up on to scaffolding to examine the work on the massive and very, very tall spires. Did I mention I’m afraid of heights? I was so scared! But I was so enthralled by the structure, by the cathedral’s history, by Gaudí’s unprecedented concept, and by the extraordinary community that supported this most original of buildings through 137 years. And above all, I was enthralled by its beauty!

The basilica is not yet finished, but innovative parametric modeling and robot-assisted construction have accelerated its completion, now anticipated within the next few years.

Barcelona’s Sagrada Família is a story of persistence, innovation and resilience.

Graduating students, you embody the same characteristics. Because, as designers and planners and developers, you are world-changers. It is in your hands because you’ve practiced it, and in your souls, because you’ve now lived it. With the passion I’ve seen in your work, I know it is in your hearts, as well.

So, it is my great pleasure to charge you with going forward today as graduates of the College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture at the University of Arizona: go forward to build a changing world. It is a world, as we’ve seen, that can be daunting. But it is also a world which presents vast opportunities—thanks to your skills, your innovation and your unique advantage: resiliency.

Congratulations, Class of 2020!


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