Skip to main content

Fall 2015 Commencement Address


Haig Fall Commencement

Dear graduating students, parents, friends, Dean Malecha, College faculty and staff, and honored guests!

Welcome and congratulations to All, who contributed to the culmination of this grand day !!!

First of all, I would like to thank Marvin for his many years of enlightened leadership, wise mentorship, and great friendship. The adjectives are all interchangeable.

It is an honor and pleasure to be with You on this day of recognition and celebration…a true milestone. I hope that you all enjoy it to its fullest meaning.


I wish to summarize this occasion with that wonderfully misunderstood expression – “Break-A-Leg” or in this particular case “Not-So-Much”.






no so much

Instead, I wish you to use other parts of your body to achieve a more rich and meaningful life, and that You fulfill it with Design, as its Motivator; or as we say around the College…a Designlife.

Before I explore those other parts with You, I would like to go back to the origins of the noted expression, mainly because I am curious and fascinated by the source of things…actually, the who, what, where, why and how of things.

You’ve heard it said often enough, that you feel you already know its meaning…I can assure you that it’s more revealing and interesting to consider its sources.

The idiom comes from the theatre, in that you wish a performer ‘Good Luck’ in an ironic way. This is done before a performance, since theatre people are very superstitious and by wishing “Good Luck”, it is actually considered Bad Luck. Thus, the opposite is said with great import and gusto.

The theatre is an apt metaphor for designers, since we perform on many different stages, indoor and outdoor, small and large, and private and public. We have a multi-role definition…wear many hats; and try to convince our audiences of our intentions with props, costumes, and spectacle with various media.

There are numerous theories about the phrase’s origins: Bowing, Yiddish, Lincoln, Non-Literal, Richard III, and Vaudeville:

  • BOWING – is archaic slang for bending at the knee or curtsying. Bowing to an audience after a performance and encoring, if it was a great success.
  • YIDDISH – is a linguistic twist from a Yiddish phrase for (success and blessing) to a German phrase for (a neck and leg fracture), because of their very similar pronunciations. The Red Baron, during WWI, said it was used to wish other pilots luck before a flight.
  • LINCOLN – is a false etymology from John Wilkes Booth, the actor-assassin, in breaking his leg during the leap on to the stage of Ford’s Theatre. It is now simply related to a grand performance, regardless of the final or terrible results.
  • NON-LITERAL – involves rushing on stage through the curtains to take bows; and the side curtains are called “Legs”…thus breaking-a-leg.
  • RICHARD III – is based upon the famous 18th C actor, David Garrick, who was so involved with his performance, that he was unaware of having a fracture.
  • VAUDEVILLE – more performers were booked than could be used on stage. Therefore, to make it on stage, one had to enter the audience’s line of sight (from the side curtains), in order to be paid. Thus, they broke-a-leg by passing through the curtain.

It reminds me that VISIBILITY is still important in terms of getting paid. It was Woody Allen, who said that – 90% of success is just showing-up.

In professional dance circles they say – “Merde”; and   in Spain for performances, it is “Mucho Mierda.”

Well enough on socio-linguistics, let’s move on to my icons and our real topic at-hand, literally. As you go forward from today, I wish you to employ these parts of your body, and leave the legs to superstition. Also, as designers, we are not superstitious; instead, we are really more spontaneous, serendipitous and generous.

4-part system

  • EYES
  • MIND






  • See clearly and deeply
  • See potentials and opportunities in all things
  • See things not as they are, but what they can become
  • See ahead, but also, act now…timing is everything
  • See goodness, make good
  • See beauty as a worthy and given goal
  • See where you are needed and go there
  • See inside yourself
  • It’s impossible to fill them and easy to fool them



  • Nourish and cherish your imagination
  • Always keep it open
  • Exercise it daily
  • Think good thoughts and act on them
  • Think about everyone, not just yourself
  • Explore and feed it with books, movies, plays, museums, music, cultures and foods
  • Explore the world and process its meanings
  • Question anything you want
  • It’s the hardest to satisfy and is boundless in capacity



  • Have an open heart
  • Love what you do; do what you love
  • Love your planet, parents, family, friends, and humankind (not necessarily in that order)
  • Forgive and carry-on
  • Embrace all problems, projects and persons with it
  • Be inspired by your aspirations
  • Don’t be half-hearted or heavy-hearted; try to be whole-hearted and light-hearted
  • Always give love a chance
  • It’s always where happiness resides



  • Shake a hand warmly
  • Hold on to what you have and also give it away when needed
  • Always lend a hand, so many need it
  • Clap for excellence in all its forms, and especially when you recognize it
  • Make beauty with them always
  • Create words, drawings, models, objects and environments with them
  • Grasp what’s important…like your lover
  • It’s having a soft touch and a strong grip

4 part harmony

I would like you to use these four powerful parts in an integrated, harmonic, and natural way.

Also, each of you can keep adding your own insights to my shortlists.

To show you that I’m not too far-off with my Four-Part Behavior Model…Louis Nizer, a famous legal mind said –

“…Who works with his hands is a laborer; …who works with his hands and brain is a craftsman; …who works with his hand and his brain and his heart is an artist (designer).”

Do we not all want to become Artists in/of our lives?

birds+beesWe haven’t yet discussed the Birds & the Bees. As a professor and back-up parent, I want you to flourish and be prolific, symbolically and professionally, that is.





left knifelido knife

In conclusion, don’t be a bland butter knife, instead be a Swiss Army – Super Tinker Lido Knife with lots of interesting edges and tools, prepared to carve a place for yourself, and definitely ready to tackle life’s challenges.




Fly High + NestYou are all, each and every one of you, the College of Design’s most important product; so act like it !!! Be proud that you are a creative individual with limitless possibilities and an enormous amount of works to do.

Go into the world and change it for the better…not for the butter !!!



thank you

Mille Grazie – A Thousand Thanks for your kind attention !!! I say this because I just found out this year, through genetic testing, that I’m 20% Italian; when all along, I thought I was 100% Armenian. I’m always learning something new about myself.


Commencement Address by Professor of Industrial Design Haig Khachatoorian