May 25, 2023 Alumnus, IDEO Partner Inspires Graduates at Commencement

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s College of Architecture and Design celebrated more than 160 graduates at two commencement ceremonies this past weekend. This year’s graduating class is comprised of 126 undergraduates and 41 master’s students. The ceremonies took place in Thompson-Boling Arena, where proud families, friends, and mentors gathered to honor the graduates’ accomplishments. 

“Every year, around this time, I think about the complex project of getting an education,” said Jason Young, dean of the college. “I think about everything that factors into what the university does to help build up and launch the careers of its graduates.” 

He emphasized the college’s role in preparing and empowering individuals with the capacity to anticipate change over the arc of their lives and through uncertainty of their careers in the allied fields of design. 

R. Michael Hendrix

In 2018, the graphic design program formally relocated from the School of Art to the College of Architecture and Design. The ceremony marked the first class of students in the School of Design to receive a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the college. 

In celebration of this moment, graphic design alumnus R. Michael Hendrix (‘94) returned to Rocky Top to deliver the commencement address for the college. Hendrix, now a partner and global director of design at IDEO, has co-founded an art school for high schoolers, a professional design curriculum for undergraduates and two professional design clubs. He has launched three small businesses, the last of which, Tricycle, was recognized by Businessweek and Fortune as a thought leader for sustainable design, and bought by Shaw Industries, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway. 

After graduating from UT, Hendrix saw graphic design jobs transform as technology began to evolve the field. Careers such as typesetter, mechanical artists and photo converts disappeared as computers gave way for web and game designers. 

“I think today, we are in a similar moment in the creative professions,” he said. “The desktop publishing revolution and the internet have fundamentally changed the way society communicates. Since then, we have built on those fundamentals with the proliferation of mobile apps that have unlocated new services and streaming media on demand, and it has changed our entertainment landscape. We’ve created a tool that can take the best of everything we’ve done, scrap it into a soup and deliver it back to us in a blink. As part of your creative process, it’s an incredible advance.” 

As artificial intelligence advances, Hendrix challenged the class to become something new and to not let their education end after leaving Rocky Top. 

“Tennessee is far from the heartbeat of entertainment in Los Angeles, business in New York, manufacturing in Chicago. It’s far from the technology in San Francisco and the cultural influence of Miami, and that’s ok. We have a character created from ingenuity to do it ourselves, make our own fun, fix what is broken and to try new solutions. This is also creative problem solving and I think it’s a valuable asset to getting an education at UT.” 

Channing Curtis, a master’s of architecture candidate and two-time graduate of UT, was selected to represent the students at the ceremony. Curtis immersed himself in design within the college and through his graduate assistantship with UT Athletics. In his speech, he spoke on how his cohort will play a part in advancing the future of architecture and design. 

A full webcast of each of the university’s ceremonies is available online.