Misha Volf’s Speech at Graduation Ceremony of MA DS 2016 class

Published on: June 13th, 2016

Talk by Misha Volf as the student speaker given at the graduation of MA Design Studies, May 19th 2016:


Thank you, Faculty, Administration, Friends, Family, Graduates,

Two years ago, when I was considering Design Studies, I came in to interview with Susan [Yelavich, Director of the Program]. Among the ways she framed the program, one of them was as a NEXUS of THEORY and PRACTICE. After the interview, as I travelled back home, I was abuzz. “This is perfect,” I thought. This wasn’t going to just be some heady, theorizing about commodities, or semiotics, or the anthropocene; nor was this simply going to be about the production of stuff, putting design to work, so to speak, or something my father with increased longing would call “marketable skills.” No, no. This was going to be something else. This was going to be, … THE NEXUS!

When I did finally start my first semester, I was very eager to find this Nexus, that I’d heard so much about. Where was it?! Was it in the lectures, the discussion seminars (lurking in the background, ready to pounce with some hands on workshop)?

Was it in the materials lockers that, as Design Studies students, we actually couldn’t have because, in the words of the administration, we were “not in Fine Arts.”

Or was it in the rough and worn materiality of the heavy and hard, bound… books? Reading, as we all know and sometimes like to brag about, is of course an “embodied practice.” But no, the theory/practice Nexus wasn’t in the books either…

Hmm, I thought, this Nexus is wily. Ever out of reach.

Of course, while looking, I did find some other things along the way. For instance, I found incredible support and mentorship from faculty. If there was a studio or an elective I wanted to take that didn’t seem to immediately relate to design, I could just ask Susan, and she would mull it over, and really think about how this would fit into my broader trajectory of study, and then immediately get back to me to let me know that actually, it might be best to have a meeting about it…

Or I could just ask Clive, who never gets back to you…no mulling over required. And it’s important to keep Jilly updated, she likes to be in the know. Of course, if you actually want feedback on your work, just write to Barbara.

I’ve also found at Design Studies a deep commitment to intellectual liberalism. This is a difficult program, as we all know, in part because it requires of the student a unique kind of focused perseverance amidst immense disciplinary breadth; a certain determined aimlessness. Still, during my time here, no one’s ever told me “no,” no class was too off-topic, no subject taboo. If some strings needed to be pulled in another department, advisement found the loose ends, and tied them up.

I’ve also found—in looking for the Nexus—deep, rich, important friendships, that I very much hope will last and inspire many more projects.

So what of the Nexus? I was expecting the Nexus to just be here, waiting for me, ready to stimulate and enlighten me, and enrich my understanding of the world: this world of things, of people, of places, of thought. But I came up short. In fact it seems that this is not how nexuses work.

This space, between theory and practice, it turns out, is not a curriculum, it is not a degree, it is not an adviser. But what is between theory and practice, is us and what we bring to it, and what we make…. of it. The nexus is only a promise of potential, but it is a solid promise, indeed, and a potential that I know we’ve all fulfilled and exceeded.

Congratulations, class of 2016, I wish you all the best!!


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Program Contact

Caroline Dionne, Program Director

Program Update

Parsons is not currently admitting new students to this master’s degree program. Parsons is now offering a Graduate Minor in Design Studies that is designed to complement the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies and other graduate programs across the university in design, liberal arts, and social research.