31 Oct Video and Script of my Commencement Speech at Goldsmiths, University of London where I received an Honorary Fellowship
In July 2022 I was presented with an Honorary Fellowship from Goldsmiths, University of London for my “contribution to design activism and public engagement.” It was a complete shock because I’m only 38 so to receive one of a handful of these fellowships given out each year to “mark an extraordinary lifetime achievement” felt surreal especially from a University I did not attend (I went to University of Manchester) and in design – a subject I did not study, from a University admired globally for its specialism in arts, design, humanities and social sciences is a huge confidence-booster. AND when I still feel like I have a lifetime head of me with many more Gentle Protest and craftivism projects and resources I am impatient to create to help people around the world do kind and effective activism.
I have to admit I had to Google what it was when I received the surprise email before I replied!
“Goldsmiths awards Honorary Fellowships to those whose exceptional accomplishments reflect the ethos and values important to our community. It is an opportunity for us to honour individuals who have inspired our students, contributed to our community and achieved distinction in industries pursued by our creative and academic disciplines.”~ Goldsmiths.ac.uk
Recipients might be alumni or members of the local community who have achieved distinction in their chosen calling, former staff who have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to furthering the work of Goldsmiths, or an inspirational individual who has the potential to act as a champion or supporter for the university.
The award of an Honorary Degree recognises a body of work that can be considered equivalent to completing a Doctorate in a discipline represented at Goldsmiths. Recipients are outstanding in their field and command national or international recognition.
Once I accepted the Honorary Fellowship I was asked to give a Commencement speech to mostly Design Graduates in July 2022 in Westminster, London. Alongside graduates in Social Work and Art Therapy.
You can watch the video HERE:
- 0:50:23 Professor Alan Downie, the Collage Orator presents me for the fellowship sharing my journey with the audience of graduates, their loved ones and staff.
- 1:05:21 My address to the graduates (written below)
My speech seemed to go down well with attendees. I had staff, graduates and even some of their family come up to me at the end in the reception room to say that it helped them think about their own journey in life and their career. Maybe you will find something helpful in it? 🙂
Thank you Goldsmiths for this honour and congratulations graduates! I think you should all write proudly on your CVs that you graduated whilst facing a global pandemic – what an achievement!
I’m 38 now and when I graduated social media didn’t exist (!), I was campaigning about global warming when many people didn’t know what climate change was and maybe, like some of you in the room, I had no idea what my life would look like after graduating.
The world is changing so quickly but there’s still one image that helps me regularly to navigate through life, try to be more helpful than harmful in society and not forget to have some fun along the way.
I’ve got the image tattooed on my left forearm to help me focus.
It’s a jigsaw piece.
I want to quickly share 3 ways the image of a jigsaw piece has helped me and I hope maybe of use to you:
Number 1: You’re one piece of the jigsaw puzzle, not the whole puzzle. You don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to do it right now, and you don’t have to do it on you own.
Media and culture likes to tell the stories of people as superheroes on their own, changing the world, whether its curing illnesses, saving species from extinction, becoming self-made millionaires or inventing a new product that changes the way we live. Oh, and ideally this superhuman achieves their big goal before they are 30 (the younger the better!) and in a nice neat way that can be easily explained in a few hundred words in a magazine or a few seconds on TikTok. This is not a helpful mindset to have and I really hope you don’t feel the pressure or burden to find your value in these unrealistic expectations and toxic individualism.
I’ve wasted so much energy over the years either trying to deliver grand plans that were too big for me to execute, or wasting time worrying so much about failing at these big ideas that I didn’t even start them. In my line of work I meet so many good people who want to make our world a better place. But sometimes they forget to look at who else is tackling the problem that they can learn from, work with, join, sign post people to, or at least walk in solidarity with. When you see yourself as one jigsaw piece in the puzzle addressing an injustice you are much more likely to take small strategic, humble and effective action without burning out or feeling overwhelmed. Start small, try stuff out and incrementally you can help make long-lasting positive change. It might not sound as exciting as the stories in the media of individual Changemakers but it’s a healthier way to work and be.
I started doing my craftivism alone, secretly trying new ways of doing stuff that I thought was lacking in the activism toolkit: Testing ways of doing small, slow and intimate forms of activism using craft and learning from the results. Over the years I’ve contributed to helping change hearts, minds, policies and laws around the world but they’ve all been in small, quiet ways that complement not compete or conflict with other campaigners protesting on the same issue. I see myself as one small jigsaw piece in a puzzle, alongside and in solidarity with diverse campaigners all working to change harmful systems and structures. I can’t save the world alone, but if I don’t do anything, there is a gap in that jigsaw puzzle and yikes! Our world needs more jigsaw pieces like you to help create a healthier, happier and more harmonious world for all dont you reckon?!
That leads me onto my second point about jigsaws:
Number 2. Spend the next few years getting to know the shape, style, design and feel of you as your unique jigsaw piece that you are –
What gifts, talents and passions do you have that you can offer our world in a joyful way?Get to know yourself: what do you love doing and time flies when you’re in the flow? What gives you energy? What drains you of energy? What big societal questions niggle in you that you can’t let go of? What passions do you have that help or at least not harm people or our planet?
Growing up I was involved in traditional campaigning – chairing meetings as Head Girl, writing minutes in my local Friends of the Earth group, organising a last minute demonstration outside a fast fashion shop opening. I was sometimes the festival volunteer who got the most amount of petitions signed by music lovers. But I would burn out doing this type of activism and there were always other people who could do it. What I realised over the years was that to my surprise not everyone could easily and happily create sensory craft events that welcomed a diverse audience of people of different political persuasions and people who had never done activism before to sit together and engage deeply and critically on social justice issues with each other. There became a demand for this type of creative gentle protest actions and I could be of service to that. I could make ethical DIY craftivism kits for people around the world to take part in my projects alone or in groups. I loved working with museums, galleries and experiential arts organisations like Secret Cinema to create bespoke activities for participants to engage in social change in a gentle intriguing and non judgemental way. The more I got to know myself, my skills and my passions, the more I knew where to focus my energy to be of best use in this fragile world and see which gaps in the puzzle I could fill and which ones I couldn’t or shouldn’t. So please do invest time in getting to know yourself and ask honest friends to help you see where you best fit.
Number 3. Learn from, without feeling you have to copy, other jigsaw pieces so that you can live your own particular authentic life:
It’s too easy now with social media and globalisation to compare ourselves with others and think I SHOULD do x, I SHOULD buy y and I SHOULD achieved z. Your version of a successful life may look very different to your peers and loved ones. Some of you might see yourself as a parent in the future whilst others don’t. You might dream of living in a country cottage or an apartment in Manhattan. Look around at the lives of people you admire and ask yourself what you like about their life and how you can implement some of it ethically in your own context. When I worked for big charities I realised I hated managing people and didn’t enjoy working in large groups. When I was offered investment to grow the Craftivist Collective into a large business I knew that wasn’t the life I wanted to lead. I look at artists, activists and ethical entrepreneurs for inspiration. Your jigsaw piece might change shape and positioning in the jigsaw puzzle over the years. I started in the charity sector, now I work more in the arts sector, who knows where my jigsaw piece will be in the future in this ever-changing world.
A successful life for me is being able to do my weird counter-cultural campaigning which might not be as popular on instagram as other forms of craftivism and doesn’t make me lots of money but I believe in it to contribute to creating a more beautiful, kind and fair world and I can feel like I’m my authentic self when I’m doing it.
So there we go lovely graduates: three ways a jigsaw piece might be helpful for you on your journey ahead:
- See yourself as one piece of the puzzle not the whole puzzle,
- Figure out where your jigsaw piece best fit to fulfil your own potential and help not harm our world in the process
- Design your own life: look and learn from people you admire to help you live an authentic live as a good global citizen.
Thank you Goldsmiths for this honorary fellowship and congratulations again graduates on your achievements.
In solidarity as always,
Sarah P Corbett, Founder of Craftivist Collective