finding your own unlikely connections

This morning, at the invitation of President Drake and Provost McPheron, I spoke to 7000 entering students at The Ohio State University on behalf of all the faculty at convocation. It was an incredibly energizing experience and I'm hopeful for this next generation of leaders and change makers! Here are my remarks:

And on behalf of the faculty, welcome!

A tiny fraction of people on the planet DO what you’ve done and GET THE support they need to be here like you, ready to embark on this journey.

I invite you all to take a moment to settle in and arrive, really arrive here into this moment and this place and this community. Breath in and expand your capacity to grow, breath out and feel how supported you are. And with each breath know that you belong here.

Every one of you belongs here and brings a valuable and unique set of experiences, perspectives and curiosities to our community.

About twenty-five years ago, I was in your place, starting college. I was excited and I was terrified, determined and prepared, but unsure—unsure of what to expect or where I was heading.

And so, I simply began. I began following my own curiosity, exploring different classes and clubs and pathways, following what sparked my interest whether it made sense or not.

I was a dance major but by the end of my second year I was also deeply involved in marine biology and my friends teased me I was going to start making dolphin dances. At the same time, I found geography and anthropology fascinating and discovered an interest in video technology at my work study job.

None of it made a lot of sense on the outside and I certainly couldn’t explain it either. My grandfather worried almost constantly that I would never be able to make a living. But my mother never worried, she told me that the connections would reveal themselves in time.

Today, I’m a Professor of Dance and Technology and I hold a joint appointment with the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design or ACCAD where I get to lead teams of artists and scientists, faculty and students, collaborating together every day in pursuit of better futures. Whether we are making virtual reality games for health and artful data visualizations, performing laptop orchestras or researching humane technologies,

I look back and I can see clearly how everything I am doing now is a mashup of all those different interests I pursued in college.

What unique mix of ideas and perspectives will you seek out here at Ohio State?

And who are the unanticipated allies and teachers around you?

You don’t have to know how it all goes together yet. Be suspicious of prescribed notions. Delight in the differences you encounter and COLLABORATE. The times of the solo genius are over, if they ever existed. Notions of standardization and categorization are dead ideas inherited from the industrial age. This is the century of networks and each of you is a node in your very own network. Work with integrity and follow what has heart and meaning and the connections will be revealed in time.

As my 13-year-old son says to me (often sarcastically but I mean it with all sincerity): you do you. Be a category of your own and allow those around you to show up in this way as well. Poet, feminist and civil rights activist Maya Angelou said “You are the sum total” of everything you choose to do and bring into your experience, what you see, hear, touch, remember and forget.

Everything you encounter will influence who you become so consider what you bring into your life and make it interesting.

As contemporary neuroscience is now revealing and as artists have known since time began, our reality is shaped by our perception. The world comes into focus for us based on the quality of our attention, the experiences we bring to the situation and the context in which we find ourselves in each moment. Therefore, I cannot assume that what I see in front of me is the same as what you see. And yet if I am curious, if I bring a sense of wonder to our differences then they become opportunities for connection. There will be many points of intersection if you look for them, degrees of similarity and fleeting alignments that allow for our shared movement forward without stifling individuality.

When you take responsibility for your own experience and look for the unexpected, then the world shows up for you in marvelous detail and opportunities abound.

On behalf of the faculty, I challenge you to seek your own unlikely connections and approach your time here with curiosity and respect for you OWN MATCHLESS HUMANITY and THAT OF ALL those you encounter.

In difference, there is discovery and in diversity there is strength.

In the words of one celebrated Midwesterner I say: be well, do good work, and keep in touch. We are so excited to see what you do next.

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