How do you make a commencement speech memorable?
During the Graduation Ceremony for the Year 2021-2022, Paul Andrew, fashion designer and I’M Mentor at Istituto Marangoni Firenze, gave proof of his incredible ability to translate a generation’s vision into an unforgettable moment for the Class of 2022.
The following is an extract of the discourse he delivered at Fondazione Zeffirelli in Florence to open the Firenze School Graduation Ceremony.
Words by Paul Andrew. Introduction by Giulia Piceni.
A leading voice in the new generation of designers, Paul Andrew cultivated his aesthetic and technical expertise alongside Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Narciso Rodriguez and the late Alexander McQueen, for whom he started working right after his graduation in 1999.
Andrew launched his eponymous collection of women’s footwear in 2013; soon after that, he extended the line to include men’s footwear, and in 2014 became the first shoe designer and the youngest brand to win the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund.
In 2016, Salvatore Ferragamo company appointed Andrew Design Director for women’s shoes.
Following the global success of his first collections, Andrew was named Creative Director of all Ferragamo product categories in 2019 – the first individual to have this role since Salvatore Ferragamo helmed the brand.
Daring and pragmatic, balancing luxury with sustainability and environmental consciousness, craftsmanship with the latest material and technological innovations, Andrew’s commitment to brand management and entrepreneurship has earned him critical praise and commercial respect internationally.
Paul Andrew’s Commencement Speech
School directors, distinguished members of the faculty, proud family and friends, and most importantly, the stunning class of 2022, it is indeed an honor for me to be here today.
It’s almost 23 years to the day since my own graduation and I remember several things about that day.
I remember I had a thumping headache from a party the night before! I had a serious boyfriend, who I thought I’d be with forever, but haven’t seen or spoken to in years.
And I remember I was starting work the next day at Alexander McQueen in London.
But of all the things I remember, I don’t have a clue who the commencement speaker was, and I don’t remember a thing that they said… So acknowledging that fact, if I cannot make this speech memorable for you, I will at least try make it short!
ISTITUTO MARANGONI FIRENZE
What do I know about Istituto Marangoni Firenze? I know that the school provides an exquisite experience in higher learning. That this school believes in hybrid professions and in the benefits of studies between the fashion and art industries.
A melting of creativity and business that prepares its students for the reality of fashion’s harsh deadlines in balance with the high creativity of the art world.
And I know firsthand that this school is filled with some of the most talented design and art students I have ever has the pleasure to meet.
So, what do these fine students of 2022 want to hear from me?
You are all smart and sophisticated people. You know the world in a way that my generation never did. Frankly, I don’t have a lot of advice to give to you. In many ways, I learn from you.
All I can tell you today is what I’ve learned as a fashion designer who worked alongside some of the most iconic designers in the business, who’s been successful with his own brand, and who was also creative director of a multi-billion-euro fashion house. The lesson is this: you cannot do it alone.
YOU CANNOT DO IT ALONE
As you navigate the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who make you feel positively challenged and embraced.
Spend a lot of time with them and it will change your life. There is no artist or designer that you admire who did it on their own!
You are all here today because someone gave you strength and helped you. They believed in you, encouraged you, made you believe you have what it takes to be successful. God, Allah, Buddha… Beyonce, Anna Wintour, whomever you pray to. Just keep praying!
They have helped you get here and that should make you feel less alone and less scared. Because they were scary few years…. You guys entered college at the height of COVID and have had to deal with all the many constraints and stresses the pandemic brought with it.
The news is filled right now with frightening topics related to diminishing human rights, the surge of reactionary movements and the doom and gloom of inflation.
This is all very heavy. For my generation, it was 9/11, the War in Afghanistan and the devastating 2008 global recession.
We all grow up afraid of something. But during those tough times, we realized how wonderful it felt to be part of a group.
YOUR CALLING CARD
Because now, and forever more, when you google yourself, your results will read “Istituto Marangoni 2022”. And in a very competitive world, that really is a great calling card.
Then the challenge of life is to build a resume that doesn’t just tell a story about what you want to be, but tells a story about who you want to be.
Not just a resume that outlines what you’ve accomplished, but also why. A story that’s not just a list of titles and positions, but a story that’s really about your purpose.
Because when you inevitably stumble and find yourself in that hole, that’s the story that will get you out. What is your true calling? What is your purpose?
[…] I have been lucky to be a part of great teams. My team with Calvin [Klein], Donna [Karan] and Ferragamo introduced me to numerous talented people with whom I still work with today. They became my fashion family.
The people I trust, respect and would go out of my way to help – and vice versa. You never know what’s around the corner, unless you peek. Unless you take risks. Hold someone’s hand when you do it… you will feel less scared.
You cannot do this alone. Besides, it’s much more fun to succeed and fail with other people – you can blame them when things go wrong!
GREETINGS AND GOODBYES
So, class of 2022, it is almost time to leave! […] This is what I want to say… when you feel scared, hold someone’s hand and look into their eyes.
And when you feel brave, do the same thing. You are all here because you are talented, smart and you are brave. And if you add kindness to that, and the ability to make a well balanced Negroni, you almost make up the perfect person.
I thank you for asking me to speak to you today.
I also thank Istituto Marangoni for inviting me back next year as a Mentor. I have sincerely loved the time I have spent with you all this past year and look forward to continuing my collaboration with the school into 2023.
I have enormous respect this institution and feel so proud to be part of it in some small way.
To the class of 2022, you are moments away from graduating.
Moments away from beginning your journey through life. Moments away from changing the world for the better with your creativity.
Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone. Know that life is not fair, and you will fail often.
But if you take some risks, step up when times are the toughest, face down the bullies, pick up the down-trodden and never, ever give up… If you do these things the next generation, and the generations that follow, will live in a world far better than the one we have today.
And what started here will indeed have changed the world for the better.
So, as you head out into the world I wish you love, light, joy, and lots of laughter… and please don’t forget that wearing Paul Andrew’s shoes on that journey will make everything better!
Thank you very much!