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Spring 2019 Commencement Address by Kathleen Kincaid

Kathleen Kincaid giving the Commencement Address in May 2019

Kathleen Kincaid giving the Commencement Address in May 2019

Distinguished Alumnus (’92 MGD) Kathleen Kincaid gave the commencement address during the Spring 2019 College of Design graduation ceremony on May 10, 2019. 

Thank you for this honor. I am truly thrilled to be here.

Thank you to my very supportive team at the College of Design, Professor Tsai Lu Liu, Dean Hoversten, and Jean Driscoll, Executive Director of Development.

A heartfelt shout out to my SQUAD (also known as my family), my father George Kincaid, and his fiancé, Eileen Gunther. To my wonderful in-laws, Dr. Allen Hornthal and Lindsay Hornthal, and my sister-in-law, Elizabeth Worley. A special thank you to my wife Martha and our daughters Maria and Veronica who are sharing me with you today.

Lastly, I’d like to recognize my mother, Shirley Kincaid, who encouraged me to always try my best, be kind, and take risks. She attended my graduation from the College of Design with my father 27 years ago.


You’ve done it! Advanced degrees seem so expected now, but that doesn’t necessarily make them easy to achieve. It takes a great deal of perseverance, endurance, and support. I applaud you and your squad.

No doubt, you’ve changed since your first day on campus. You’ve expanded your strengths, harnessed your challenges, survived crits, many, many, many, hours in studio, and made intellectual and personal connections to your chosen discipline.

And now, you’re embarking on making another transformation. Perhaps some of you will pursue another degree. Some of you may be eager to make the transition from design to the practice of design. Regardless, there is an adventure in your future.

I’ve been there and personally hope I have many more adventures in my future. I started my career in print design before quickly moving to product design and user experience, and then transitioned into product development. I’ve held positions at large organizations such as Microsoft, The Washington Post Newsweek Interactive, Yahoo!, Condé Nast, Time Inc., Ziff Davis and most currently, The New York Times. I’ve also been a consultant for start-ups working from living rooms, shared co-working spaces and coffee shops. I’ve been promoted and laid off. I have hired and fired. I’ve moved across the country twice. So, yes, I’ve had a few adventures.

One of my current adventures is raising two daughters. Our eldest daughter made the transition to middle school this year. Let me pause to catch my breath here. For the parents, caretakers, other family members and dear friends out there, I think you understand what I’m talking about. You feel me right? My father used to say he was going to put a brick on my head so I’d stop growing. I now know what he meant. But we all keep growing.  

During this academic year, we were invited to my daughter’s science class for a share about the physics and mechanics of pulleys. While the projects and presentations were interesting and quite impressive — a poster hanging up high on the wall in the classroom caught my attention. At the beginning of the year, her class created a poster of “Science Principles and Practices” to foster a culture of curiosity and learning for their science class. These principles and practices really resonated with my career and me. And I was thrilled to see them in my daughter’s classroom as their guiding values and principles for learning and possibly living.

I’d like to share them with you for you to consider as you embark on your own professional adventures.

A good scientist is… (You can easily substitute designer, team member or employee)

CURIOUS: Wonders about things, asks questions, and explores to find out more.

Whatever your next step is, foster a culture of curiosity and invite discussion. Be open to learning from your peers. You don’t know everything. You’re not expected to know everything. Raise your hand, ask the question, and be part of the conversation.

PERSISTENT: Never gives up.

Keeps trying.

James Dyson made over 5,000 prototypes before he got his vision to work as he intended for the Dyson vacuum cleaner.

So many people we consider successful persevered through rejection, failure, and setbacks; Oprah, J.K. Rowling, and Steve Jobs, to name a few.

When I’ve managed or coached people and they say, “I’m not good at _____.” “I’m not good at product data analytics” or “I’m not good at presentations or public speaking”…I like to add YET.

“I’m not good at product data analytics …yet.”

“I’m not good at presentations …yet.”

It’s a simple reframe to identify the gap and start making a plan for how you might fill it.

FLEXIBLE: Looks for different ways to solve problems. What have you tried so far? How might you approach it differently? Is this the right problem to solve? How might we find out?

James Dyson was flexible. Steve Jobs was flexible. Flexible is perseverance good friend.

A RISK-TAKER: Tries new and challenging things, learns from mistakes and doesn’t fear them.

Don’t dwell on your mistakes. Failure is not the opposite of success; it is part of success. Don’t be afraid to fail. Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s knowing that you are afraid and doing it anyway.

We moved to Seattle without a job or a place to live. I was excited and terrified. I left my family, friends, and professional network. I had ONE contact. I had been volunteering on a photo-documentary project and my co-worker suggested I look up his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend’s roommate from college who worked at Microsoft.  I did. I worked at Microsoft for 9 years across multiple teams and roles.

Two years after starting at Microsoft, I wanted to switch teams but wasn’t completely qualified for the role. I didn’t know a specific software program that was required for the position. I pulled an all-nighter to teach myself “SPLASH” (now known as Flash which is no longer supported) and enough HTML to create a demo reel to secure the position on that new team at Microsoft called Slate. Within two years I became the Design Director of the team. I didn’t know the software…yet. Eighteen years later I had the opportunity to join that person who hired me at The New York Times.

REFLECTIVE: Thinks about WHY what we are doing makes sense and how we can correct and apply what we’ve learned to different situations.

Take a moment to be reflective. Life moves fast. Take the time to be thoughtful. Identify your strengths and what you can contribute. Become strategically self-aware.

As the Group Director for Product Design, I recruited and interviewed design candidates frequently. An Interview conversation I liked to have went like this: “you will learn here. You will learn from us, we offer tuition reimbursement for continuous learning and professional development programs and we learn from each other all the time. What will we learn from you? What will you bring to the team and organization? What’s your superpower?”

I’d like to add one more to the Science Principles and Practices list…because I can.

GENEROUS: Be generous with your knowledge and experience.

“When you succeed, you don’t slam the door shut, you reach back and help the next person succeed.” (paraphrased from Michelle Obama)

Help the next new hire. Be a mentor. Answer the email or message on LinkedIn from a design student. Volunteer to review and edit someone’s portfolio. Support the College of Design. There are many ways to provide support. Refer to the three “Ts”: Time, Treasure and Talent.  

If you are economically challenged at the moment (in other words, broke), your currency can be your time or talent. There are many ways to make a contribution. You can add treasure as it comes.

John Schaar, a futurist, once said, “the future is not some place we are going to but one we are creating.”

What do you want to create?







Thank you for inviting me to share this exciting achievement with you. I wish you all the very best. May you have many adventures.

Be kind, be yourself, and have fun!