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Building Whisperer Commencement Address

Building Whisperer Commencement Address

Quality, Consequences and the Construction Industrial Complex (part 151). 

“You did it, class of ……”, every USA commencement speech I attend includes this for some reason. 

I have attended UK and USA university commencements and the differences are fascinating. The British are the most formal and least cliche-riddled and the Americans use more pomp, nationalism and celebrity. As I get older I realize that culture impacts everything. 

While attending the 2018 NYU Engineering School commencement ceremony I was moved by a speech that spoke to generational challenges. It made me think about what I would say to a graduating cadre of would be engineers. 

I know you did not ask for it, but here is my unsolicited commencement speech for all graduating engineers in 2018. 


Picture this, the national anthem is played, everyone sits down and a self absorbed, over confident, mildly insane British guy walks up to the podium and starts to speak……


You did it, class of 2018, congratulations! Today your life journey starts a new chapter and it is time to consider what lies ahead.

Firstly, I want to acknowledge your accomplishment. An engineering degree is difficult, it cannot be done half heartedly, it takes commitment, brain power and hard work. My university tutor observed, “you never see engineering students protesting or taking it easy. Why? Because there is no slack permitted, they have to do the work to graduate”. That was a British pep talk!

Despite what you may see on the news, we have the lowest levels of poverty, violence and disease ever recorded. The tools and opportunities open to all of us in the age of the internet are staggering and getting better every year. It is a great time to be alive! 

To have an education and engineering degree is almost an unfair advantage in life. The question is, what are you going to do with it, will you serve or take from society? 

IMHO, engineers serve society, that is their duty of care. For example, think about the humble public health engineer. Plumbing and the sewer system has saved millions of lives over time by preventing disease. Think about underground mass transit, this was bought to you by the coming together of capital and engineering. 

However, we live in interesting times and the days of qualifying as an engineer then riding that out to your retirement are over. A full talent sack will be required going forwards and the key skill will be meta learning i.e learning how to learn, unlearn and relearn. This is because the complexity and challenges facing society today are formidable. 

Our current economic models are based on infinite growth on a finite planet which is just not sustainable. Each generation faces new challenges. Your challenge is, how to continue economic growth and wellbeing with out squandering natural resources. 

With this in mind, I recommend going forwards you always;

Be Grateful

Take a moment and express gratitude because;

  • You are probably young healthy and rich. By rich I mean, even with debt, you have been educated.
  • If you have graduated college or university you are set up for success, even with debt!
  • The cast system in North America favours college and university graduates and rewards them with higher life time earnings. For example, only 1/3 of American adults over 24 have a college degree and Americans with degrees make 68% more on average, than people with high school diplomas (Source NPR). 

The question to ask yourself is, “what are you going to do with this relative advantage?”

Be Humble

Despite your new academic qualification you do not know everything or anything, therefore;

  • Always be open to learning.
  • Seek mentoring, find the “Obi-Wan Kenobi” in every organization and ask them to mentor you.
  • Accept that there is a further 4 to 5 years of work place learning before you can qualify as an engineer.

Be Curious

  • Seek answers to the big questions.
  • Keep reading and seek knowledge outside your field of expertise.
  • Add to your talent stack.

Be Undeniable

  • Commit to be the best you can be.
  • Develop deep expertise.
  • Be undeniably awesome, this is the route to job security, growth and success.

To close, I want to share an insight. I noticed in commencement speeches that “Big Data & Data Analysis” were mentioned several times. I believe, the built environment is on the brink of huge change driven by the falling cost of performance data harvesting i.e the IOT.  

A key skill to add to any engineering talent stack will be, IMHO, Data and Statistical Analysis. This skill will reside over all engineering disciplines and be a key driver for evidenced based building design and performance monitoring. We are moving to a new data driven building design and operational paradigm. Graduates of 2018 have an opportunity to be early adopters and practitioners in this new data driven world. 

Carpe Diem!

BTW…… I’M BATMAN….shout out to Micheal Keaton’s commencement speech this year (

Twitter: @BLDWhisperer

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