John Caserta
Since 2016, RISD yearbook have asked department heads to write a letter to their graduating students for the yearbook This page contains 433 words and is filed under essays

Graduation Letter, 2019

There are many reasons not to do things. Things — like calling my uncle on his birthday, going to a friend’s opening, cancelling my Hulu membership, making ‘my own’ work, or even writing this brief text for the yearbook. It’s really not for lack of interest that things don’t get done. With this yearbook text, for example, I’ve been having a hard time thinking of a good concept. I’ve been worried that writing something bad is worse than writing nothing at all. Am I really going to submit a half-work, a paragraph that predictably gushes about this year’s Graphic Design graduates?

The big concepts have come and gone. The stuff of genius, like, a belabored ascii art masterpiece or an edited version of a previous letter. I also thought about giving my space to someone who could use the platform. I considered making an emoji to communicate love for the college graduate (a heart with graduation cap, perhaps). I spent time getting into the editorial mindset; asking Julian for the concept of this year’s edition. I sought clarification of purpose (should this text inspire, be witty, be self-deprecating).

What is the winning formula here? What exactly is this text supposed to say anyway? What are other department heads writing? I should probably look at a bunch of these from previous years. How long should it be? Surely I have more time or some way out of this.

My best advice to students is always to start the ‘thing’ as soon as possible and to see where it goes. My conversations with my uncles always go to unexpected places. Going to a friend’s opening leads me to new ideas and deeper relationships. So, why not start this letter? I’ll begin with how proud I am of the Graphic Design students — yes, you. You made a wealth of meaningful work and friendships over these past few years. The exhibitions this year were amazing. You made a lot more than individual pieces of design. You made the Department worth showing up to. This place without you is not a place at all (come back and visit in June). I’m proud of each and every one of you for being willing to face yourselves by making your own work – whether you finished all the things you wanted to finish or not. Pat yourselves on the back. Getting to the end is an accomplishment in and of itself.

Pick up a copy of the essay in the printed yearbook by emailing The above version is an edited version of what appears in the printed yearbook.

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Interim Dean of Architecture + Design and formerly Department Head of the Graphic Design Department at Rhode Island School of Design. Founded The Design Office, a workspace for designers, in 2007, and ran it until its closing in 2021. Hear an interview that covers my teaching and design career. Read an overview of my work from The Noun Project. This site is updated regularly and outputs to a book with Bindery. Get in touch via email.