This year, the 2014 commencement ceremony was absolutely amazing! You might say I’m bias because, after all it was my graduation ceremony, but it truly was an unforgettable experience, filled with some amazing and inspiring speeches. Our guest speaker was author Zadie Smith, who gave some wise words to our class. And as if that wasn’t powerful enough, the student commencement speaker, Prithika Madhavan gave a deeply moving and inspiring speech as well. In fact, for the first time in seven years the New School commencement speaker is a Parsons student and for the first time ever, a Design and Management student! Prithika’s speech resonated profoundly with me and although I didn’t know her well during our time at Parsons, I knew after hearing her story that I wanted to gain more insight about her time here at the New School and of course what it was like delivering that speech!
*Prior to reading this article it may be helpful to view Prithika’s commencement speech here:
Lauren Davis: Congratulations on an incredible speech! What was it like to be up there in front of over 3,000 of your peers delivering the commencement speech?
Prithika Madhavan: When I found out I was one of six finalists to give the speech I was honestly in a state of shock. It was incredible to have even made it that far. Then, when I found out that I actually got it I was overcome with emotion, but more than anything I felt extremely blessed. Because there are 3,000 people graduating and they chose me to represent my dream school and my dream program. There really couldn’t have been a better way for me to end my college experience. Delivering the commencement speech was the cherry on the cake.
When I was actually on stage in the beginning I thought to myself, “Wow that’s a lot of people”. But, I realized that whatever I share today is going to be my gift to these people. They are not going to criticize me or boo me or be upset with what I have to say, because I’m sharing something that is so special and so precious. I’m going to talk from the heart and I’m sure it’s going to resonate with them on some level. So, when I went up there I said I can not disappointed the people who chose me to do this speech and I can not disappoint the other finalists who were turned down. It was as a wonderful experience.
LD: Your speech shared a personal story, why did you decide to share something so intimate?
PM: I knew I wanted to talk a little bit about my life. I watched speeches from previous years and many of them were about the history of economics and the history of the New School. While they were intriguing I felt that doing something more personal would really resonate with the audience.
LD: You were also so calm and poised on stage! How did you prepare for the speech beforehand?
PM: Initally when I would practice I was looking down and trembling! I took a drama class at school where they put me in a big room and made me practice projecting my voice, looking down and looking up. I got really heavy duty training and I think that’s why it came out as good as it did. I had someone help me with the content and prepare how to deliver it.
LD: In your speech you mentioned your new position as a User Experience Designer can you tell our readers what that is exactly and how you got that position?
PM: I can’t say too much about the position yet; but, I can describe the nature of the role. A user experience designer is someone who essentially designs experiences. Whether that’s over a virtual interface like an iphone or an ipad, or whether it is tangible like with products you can hold and feel. It’s all about designing an experience for them, that will enhance their life in some way.
LD: How do you feel your time at Parsons and your major will/has prepared you for this position?
PM: Well, the great thing about Design and Management is that it’s a buffet. You have to take a certain number of design based classes and a certain number of business based classes. So, with the business classes it made me open to how I should start an idea, how I can use an entrepreneurial approach to bring it to the marketplace, how I sell it, how I set up a business model, how I market it and target it to the appropriate users. The business classes really gave me really vital background skills. Now with the design side of it, I obviously had to learn the design basics like the Adobe Creative Suite programs and typography classes; but, aside from that everything else was up to me and how I wanted to do it. That’s why I loved Design and Management, it was all about what works for me and how the classes will enhance my life more than anything.
LD: You mentioned in your speech that you are working on a ‘smart bra’, can you tell us a little bit more about that project?
PM: The smart bra I am working on is a personal project and a tangible user experience. The smart bra is my own personal project that I need funding for and was also my senior thesis. It would fall under the same category as something like the Nike Fuel band and would help its users in some way in their life.
So visibly it is a normal bra; but, inside the bra it has sculpting. With the sculpting it is linked to three buttons in the back. One button is minimizing, one button is maximizing, and one button is moderating, it’s an internal process. There are all sorts of different conditions and types of breasts, so this is one bra that will cater to three different types all in one use. It must be used everyday and as the sculpting works, it also picks up on the estrogen levels in your body. This is my dream project and I just need funding, as well as a biotech engineer to execute this project with.
LD: Throughout your time at Parsons you were a member of the Student Senate and were also President this past year, why do you feel is is important for students to get involved within their school communities?
PM:I feel that if you want to be a leader in the real world you need to start on a small scale. In every experience that you are placed in you are responsible for adding value. When I came to Parsons I felt that there was a major lack of school spirit and so I decided to join Parsons Student Senate. I began as an event manager and it was extremely helpful because applying myself through leadership positions at school I was able to be a leader in the real world. So when I went on job interviews or networking events it just came out naturally; but, more than anything it just made me feel so closely connected to the school. Just talking to students and seeing what their issues were and how I can, in my position as a leader be of help.
LD: What kind of programs has the Parsons Student Senate created?
We created the Student Art Fund where we raise money for kids who can not afford to buy their art supplies. They submit their records to us, we check with financial services, and if everything is clear we are able to give them money to buy art supplies. This way students are able to focus on their art projects without worrying about paying for them. Utrecht also donates a lot to us, so sometimes we just stand outside of school and give away art supplies for free! These are little things, but it’s all about making people feel that they are important and having the best time they can while they are here at Parsons.
We also launched the very first Parsons Gala, which was basically like a prom for Parsons kids! We wanted to give students something to look forward to and dress up for at the end of the year. Not only was this like a homecoming event; but, it was also a really great networking opportunity. We had a step and repeat, drag queens, and a really awesome DJ. People from every different discipline within Parsons got together and It was a great way to bring people closer and for them to get to know people in programs outside of their own.
LD: What do you think you’ll miss the most about college?
PM: I will really miss the support that I got. I had very close relationships with my peers and professors. I will really miss those connections and talking to them. I learned as much from the people as I did from the program. I got so many life lessons just by talking to people and just being in this Parsons atmosphere. I will really miss that stuff.
LD: What advice would you give to current and prospective Parsons students?
PM: My advice is be proactive and get gritty. Be proactive because Parsons is an incredible school and there are so many great opportunities but they aren’t going to come by sitting on the couch. You have to be the one who is going to go out there, go to Career Services, events, go to your professors and really be motivated to ask and look for opportunities. I think sometimes people assume when they come here that their futures will be set, and although it will be to a certain extent, at the same time the people that succeed were people who made the experience valuable for them because they reached out, don’t miss out! Be hungry enough to constantly seize opportunities to grow as an individual as well as in your school work.
My second advice, get gritty, means that things at Parsons are never going to be a piece of cake. You are going to be constantly challenged in real world as well as academic situations. A lot of times people get unmotivated and will just finish a project to be done with it, but don’t be mediocre with anything in your life. Don’t be average. It’s all about being persistant, give it your best, give it your all, keep pushing for it!