Keynote: Anne R. Pramaggiore

Anna Pramaggiore

Good evening. I’m delighted to be here on this very special day. And I am always delighted to be back at Miami. I look forward to spending a few minutes with you this evening, talking about the wonderful journey you begin tonight, but the first order of business tonight and always is to recognize and express gratitude to those who brought us to this lovely evening.

I first want to thank Dean Dollar for his tremendous leadership, all of the talented deans, department chairs and professors whose dedication and great skill produced this stellar class of 2017. Congratulations to Dr. Singh and Ndeye Guisse, for being recognized for their immense contributions.

To the moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles – all of whom are in attendance today – thank you for supporting these wonderful people who are poised now to bring great things to the world.

Most of all, hats off to the graduates of Miami University’s College of Engineering and Computing.

It is an honor to be the recognition ceremony speaker for such an esteemed group at such a renowned institution.

While being here and having the good fortune of the bully pulpit is all good for me, I suspect you may be asking yourselves – who is she, why is she here, what does a once-Miami theater major have to say to an engineering class, and is this just now a good time to SnapChat? Allow me to answer those nagging questions for you.

Dean Dollár very graciously and generously told you who I am. My name is Anne Pramaggiore. I live in Chicago, and graduated from Miami in 1980. (As Dean Dollar noted) I am half of a Miami merger and have a sophomore – Jack Harrington – now here at the school.

Why am I here? I am here because Dean Dollár invited me.

Snapchat Question? And it is always a good time to SnapChat – so have at it!

That answers three of the four questions, but the last one is really the pivotal question, isn’t it? What do I have to say to you?

As a former theatre major, I grew up in the business of having a lot to say about a lot of things. However, I have learned in my 58 years on the planet, my 37 years in business and particularly my 30 years as ½ of a Miami merger that sometimes, what is most important is what you choose not to say. But you are not fortunate enough to be the beneficiary of that philosophy tonight. Tonight, I connect to my theatre roots and I am doing the talking here.

So, what is it that a former arts person has to say to a group of engineers? What do I say to the 500-plus engineers who work in my company – electrical, mechanical, nuclear, computer, design thinking engineers, and astrophysics engineers with bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees and doctorate degrees from schools all over the US and the world.

First, I remind them that, as brilliant as they all are, the Arts major controls the money for their projects. I say to this amazing group of the smart, skilled, analytical technical and innovative: bring me worthy projects – projects with purpose, projects of imagination, projects with human connectivity and we will build them.

You will spend your careers fulfilling a very important role in our society: you are builders. From constructing beautiful structures for people to behold to designing networks of energy and communications that fuel the economy, to imagining systems to better feed and care for people, to those of you who build great companies and institutions – you are the builders.

And based on my observations of the world it is the builders amongst us that have generated the energy that has propelled the most significant and amazing transformational movements in our history. Builders brought on the Renaissance. Builders brought on the Industrial Revolution. Builders brought on the digital era.

The builders set us apart. The builders ignite us. The builders change the world.

That is the nature of your calling – the legacy of which you are the keepers.

What does that legacy look like?

I referred a moment ago to one of history’s greatest movements – the Renaissance. We often think of the Renaissance as an era in which art flourished, but it’s really the case that art, science, literature, and social consciousness ALL flourished. It is one of history’s greatest eras of invention.

And among the great catalysts and enduring symbols of the Renaissance was a builder who changed the world -- Filippo Brunelleschi. In the early 1400s Brunelleschi built the dome of the Cathedral of Florence (the Duomo) – an architectural feat like no other at the time, and by doing so led Europe out of the dark ages into the Renaissance. He is widely regarded as the first modern engineer as well as an innovator, building the Dome with the aid of machines that he invented specifically for the project.

During the 16 years it took to complete the Dome, he was also a catalyst for emerging consciousness around worker safety. So workers wouldn’t have to walk down hundreds of steps each day and exhaust themselves, he had lunch hoisted up to them. To reduce their risk of falling, he had a safety net constructed, spanning the entire, enormous work space. To improve safety overall, he watered down their lunchtime wine. Safer workers, perhaps. Happier workers, I doubt it.

Brunelleschi paved the way for the scientific, cultural and social revolution of the Renaissance by creating a cathedral dome. A project that challenged engineering, spurred a leap in human consciousness, inspired generations and still inspires today.

Let me shift to another great movement in history – the industrial revolution.

Among the builders of the industrial revolution were three brilliant men who created – not a structure – but a system for harnessing energy – a network, the electric power grid.

Thomas Edison, creator of the lightbulb, Fred Sargent, engineer designer of the early big power plants--and Sam Insull – the man who figured out how to connect these two inventions both physically and economically – together created a network of electrification that crisscrossed the entire country in four decades.

That electric grid and the cheap, ubiquitous power it piped out to every part of the country spurred the building of the great steel industry, and with steel came skyscrapers, railroads, bridges, the automobile, and the industries that support them. The grid began our economy’s transition from agrarian to industrial, spurred the creation of a middle class, and massive improvements in the safety and the quality of life. The power grid formed the backbone of American prosperity throughout the 20th century and placed the US on the global stage.

A very different but equally transformative network was built in the latter part of the 20th century – digital communications and the internet. If the power grid forms the foundational infrastructure for economic and social organization in the 20th century, the internet and digital technology form the foundational infrastructure for the same in the 21st.

The internet first emerged as a U.S. –driven Cold War defensive measure but moved to commercial space with the introduction of HTTP in 1989 by British engineer Tim Berners-Lee. Mass access was made available when a gentleman named Bill Gates entered upon the scene and designed the accessible operating system (MS-DOS.)

Accessibility increased exponentially with mobility, when Steve Jobs introduced IPhones and IPads. Now we could customize our technology through apps and take our digital lives, and our desire to connect with one another, everywhere.

This latest movement, the digital revolution, like the movements before it, has implications far beyond the technology. Connectivity is the clarion call of our new millennium and has ignited social movements like the Arab Spring which was organized over social media. The technology has exploded and has changed our very social interactions with virtual communities such as Fishbrain for fishing enthusiasts, Raptor for gamers and Barista Exchange for – you guessed it.

And our economic structure. Facebook, Amazon and Google – all network platform businesses are the GMs, Fords and US Steels of the 21st Century.

I’d like to share with you a final story of a great visionary and a great builder … Born in Athens, Ohio, Maya Lin, the daughter of Chinese Immigrants, was just 21 – an undergraduate-- when her design was chosen in a national competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. Her design and its execution stunned the world … the v-shaped, dark grey granite wall rising out of the earth, inscribed with the names of every soldier who gave the ultimate sacrifice, is considered one of the single most influential memorials in history.

It informs – the sheer volume of names speaks to the consequence and enormity of that war. It provides connection – for the millions who come to commune, whether the loss they suffered was communal or personal. And it inspires – a singular edifice that heightens our spirituality and resolve. Her work resets our standard of reflection around the conflict and with it, our reflection on human value.

Maya Lin’s masterwork has inspired memorials built since then – notably, the 9/11 memorial and its reflecting pools that feature and honor the names of all those who were lost that day.

So you may be thinking, these are fascinating stories of engineers, architects, and technical innovators of bygone eras, but what does this have to do with me?

Well, you are not graduating in the 1950s, where you could see the path to your retirement from your college graduation chair. You are not even graduating in the early 2000s, where the digital transformation that is sweeping our world manifested itself in the form of playful technology.

No, you are graduating into the dawn of the 21st century and a new era. The convergence of digital communications technology and a seismic shift in energy is driving economic and social shifts at least as consequential as those of the 20th century industrial revolution. You will be the builders of the physical, digital and social infrastructure whose hallmarks will include artificial intelligence, robotics and demand for 24/7 connectivity. You will be called upon to solve the problems of a growing and increasingly urbanized population and its impact on the physical world and social and economic systems.

You as a class, as a generation, have a monumental job ahead. You are the builders for the next Industrial Revolution. But you’re not out there untethered. These stories of builders are your legacy. Equally as important, these narratives are your roadmap. You must rethink our world for this new era but build according to the principles of the great builders.

These were people who built with purpose. Brunelleschi built for spiritual connection.

Edison, Sargent and Insull built to support great invention and create a great economy.

Gates and Jobs saw the promise of digital tools – to tap into our desire for communication and connection. Maya Lin built to reestablish a sense of honor.

These were all people who built with creativity. Each of them eschewed the rules of the day and the structure-bound thinkers around them. They drew on their creative brain as well as their logical and left us with far more than lovely or useful structures.

These were people who built with connection.

Each of these builders, at the core of their accomplishments, connected to something essential to human experience: spirituality, learning and growth, health and safety, inspiration, connection, honor. Their creations were not, at the end of the day, about bricks, mortar, copper, steel, silicon or granite. Their creations were about people and the larger human experience.

It is my great pleasure to put some of our most complex and impactful challenges, and the promise of future sources of inspiration, in your clever and capable hands.

As you move forward, build. Build with purpose. Build with creativity. Build with connection.

Thank you.