Dear Cal Poly - You Taught Me Nothing About Architecture

Dear Cal Poly CAED,

Everyone says you're the best at what you do - a top ranked architecture program, year after year after year. And with a mantra of "Learn by Doing" and eons of stressful studio hours I expected to be more than prepared for the next steps in life. When I graduated I'd be an architect, ready to design the future, right? You're known for being highly technical, one of the most practical, so surely I'd be ahead of the curve in practice - probably even ready to start my own successful firm! 

Well, it's been two years since I left you and I can say with absolute confidence: what a bunch of bull-garbage. You nowhere near prepared me to be an architect, not even close! I mean, do you even know how much I didn't know when you handed me a robe, a cap, a smile and a handshake, sending me off with your signature of approval? Could I put together a set of construction documents or successfully land clients to support a private practice? Not even close! How could you let me leave? What sadistic game are you playing with your students?!

Believe me, I tried to stay as long as I could to be sure I was on the right path. We met in 2004 when I was an overly ambitious, naive young dreamer, banking on an architecture/engineering double major and a fine arts minor - I was going to learn it all and then take over the world and you were going to help me do it. To be fair, you did try to warn that I was taking on too much, but you know a girl like me loves a challenge. I'm competitive; it's one of the reasons why you picked me.

But man, it was too much. You were too much. Remember when we were on that break? We just weren't a great fit, you know? I was so lost. I knew I needed you but a crucial connection between us was missing. I absolutely loved your assignments and yet did everything I could to avoid living the "studio life"... what was wrong with me, why didn't I fit in? Maybe you just didn't understand me? Or, maybe I didn't understand me... I didn't know who I was when I was with you. I felt like I wasn't who you expected me to be. You told me you were disappointed - so was I.  For someone who thought they knew it all I really had no clue what to do, so I left.  

You know how great artists always take a few steps back while they work to see things from a different perspective with a critical eye, returning again with better direction and confidence? I wonder how many great artists freak out, dump a bucket of red paint all over their canvas, and then run home to cry to their mother? What. a. trainwreck. But hey, it worked out; I found that perspective and did some groveling - we made up. What I realized during our distancing is that I had our relationship all wrong. You didn't expect me to be anyone but myself. And it wasn't your job to pump me full of all the technical knowledge I'd need to succeed while I sat like an empty vessel, passively absorbing everything, and then bailing for something better when you were done giving. That wasn't fair - I'm sorry. It's hard to acknowledge how egocentric we are at that age (no doubt I'll think the same of myself now in another handful of years).

When I finally let go of the ridiculous idea of who I thought we were to each other, that's when I could see you at your best. It's like any successful relationship - it takes two whole, confident entities to champion, challenge, and propel each other toward greatness. I gave you everything I had until graduation. I let go of the fear that you might reject my craziest, most passionate dreams. I jumped, vulnerable, and you caught me. You listened, you pushed, and you molded me into someone I am proud of. I'm still ambitious, but now I have direction.

Then in June of 2014 I graduated, landed a job, aaaaaand cursed your name all over again. I had no idea what I was doing! I still don't. Ten years with you and this is what I know? Nothing?! What a waste of time.

But... Deadline after deadline, understaffed, over-worked, over-my-head in complex issues with real life consequences and I haven't drowned. To the contrary, I may know nothing about any of the details of what I'm doing, but I learn quickly, adapt, rebound, swim, and challenge my peers to do and be better. I jump in, identify problems, and test and prototype until there's a clear solution. I'm the office mitigator, the problem solver. You know how you go from draftsman to discussing partnership in six months? Not because you can detail and draft anything in your sleep, but by knowing how to perform under pressure without crumbling, keeping a team moving forward, unified. 

I remember a time when you invited a guest lecturer, a successful architect, to speak with us during thesis year and he told us he learned nothing about architecture when he was with you. What a strange thing to say to a room full of soon-to-be-architects, I thought. Why would you invite this man to say such a thing? He laughed and said what you had actually taught him was how to roll with punches and solve problems, never yielding to pressure, always throwing out new ideas and solutions.

I get it now - I understand why you're the best. It was a long, rough road, but you are the most critical investment I've made in myself and my future. 

Cal Poly, what you do for your students is profound. You know that an education should be more than memorizing facts and data, going through the motions of prescribed lectures and tests, and sitting around like empty buckets waiting to be filled up. You challenge students to strip away their egos, find their passion, and become doers. Your graduates aren't passive participants in the world. We take charge. We take action. We solve problems. We do. And we don't stop until it's done. 

Good luck with your next batch of young dreamers and congratulations to this year's impressive new graduates - I can't wait to see what they do next.

All my love,

Leah Alissa Bayer
B.Arch, Cal Poly, 2014
Project Manager & Soon-to-be Architect