Speaking at SAA

This past weekend I spoke at the School of Advertising Art Honors Luncheon. When I received the email to speak, tears poured from my eyes and the only thing I could think was “Does this mean I’ve made it?”

Just three years ago, I was attending the honors luncheon with my parents. I graduated as Salutatorian in the Class of 2012. It was such a special moment for me and my parents to share knowing that a chapter of my life was over and a new one was about to begin.

I wanted to share some of the pointers that I shared with the students on here, just incase they forgot :)


1. Be nice to everyone.

You will always have that one person that is hard to get along with at work, or the client that just does’t get it. Even when other people aren’t nice, kill them with kindness. Be that smile that people will always remember. Position your attitude so that if you are absent at work, the office environment seems dull and not the same.

2. Listen more than you speak.

AKA If you don’t shut up, you will never learn from the people around you. Also, no one likes a know it all. So don’t be the designer with that reputation around the office. But, it is also a balance. Don’t be afraid to still speak up but timing is key

3. Don’t burn bridges.    

Never leave a job on a bad note. When you quit, leave emotions out of it and tell them in the most professional way possible why you were unhappy. As you are interviewing for a new job, NEVER talk bad about your past employer or coworkers. 

4. Everyone knows everyone.

It’s a VERY big, small world, especially in our industry. Don’t talk bad about anyone. If you’re super frustrated with your boss or a client, call your parents. When I moved to Nashville, I realized how even in big cities, it is such a small world. Don’t go get your hair cut and start complaining about your job. Little do you know, your hairdresser’s brother dated your co-worker’s best friend. Before you know it, you’re busted! Don’t talk smack. Ever. 

5. Leave your ego at the door. 

At Birdsong, this was our biggest motto. It falls into so many great qualities for companies hiring. It tells employers that you are open to learning and work well on a team. Trust me y’all, you don’t know everything. Don’t be that stubborn designer on the team that people don’t want to collaborate with. Also, remember, your idea might not be the best idea. Know when to let it go, because at the end of the day, the client is paying for the project. 

6. Focus on personal growth.

Learn as much as you can to be an irreplaceable asset on your team. Most companies invest in amazing services like lynda.com or skillshare.  Guys, USE THEM! Our office has bookshelves on bookshelves of typography and design books. Take 15 minutes, pick one up, and go outside. It will clear your head AND help your personal growth. 

7. Don’t be “THAT” Designer. Go the extra mile.  

You all thought of a specific person in your head when you read that, didn’t you? You know, the designer that is always a “ray of sunshine” on Monday morning meetings, their desk is always a disaster zone, never empties the dishwasher or takes out the trash. Don’t make people clean up after you. Go the extra mile to take care of the space around you and people will notice. I promise. 

8. Stay professional. 

You can still wear jeans, but be professional. When you are starting out in an agency, the best experience of working for clients is to be pulled into the meetings. If you dress like a homeless person with your ripped jeans and heavy eyeliner, your chances of being involved in client meetings drop a billion points. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Jeans. Blazer. Booties. Winning. 

9. Network. Network. Network. 

Connections are gold. Your classmates, networking event acquaintances, and fellow AIGA members will be valuable assets one day. Surround yourself with other creatives, but also go to networking events where you can meet people in and outside of our industry. (cough cough. new clients. cough.) Who knows, if you’re in need of a new job, a screen printer, developer; They will either be able to help you, or put you in contact with someone who can help you. Hence, GOLD. haha 

10. Be a sponge and sit next to the smart guy. 

If you want to be art director one day, sit in the desk next to your art director. Make a list of your responsibilities and tasks, then observe what he is doing that you are not. It’s okay to sometimes ask “hey, what ya workin’ on?” (but don’t abuse that) You will learn so many tips, tricks, and skills sitting next to people that are further ahead in their career than you are.

11. Employers DO check social media. 

Guys… for real. If it is out there, they will find it. Keep it off. Your faith, political views, ’bashing’ Best Buy because you had a bad experience and last but not least, talking bad about your current employer or clients. Be smart. 

12. Find your “WHY”

Simon Senik said “People don’t buy what you do, they buy WHY you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.” Find out what your WHY is and hold true to it. In this Industry, it is your “True North.” How to find your WHY: What are your values? Why do you do what you do? What do you believe in? What are your views? All of these answers will create your WHY. 

My Why is building relationships, giving back, and helping clients find out who they are as a company and as people.

Jobs will change, designers will influence you, projects come and go, but, ALWAYS remember your WHY.


In conclusion, I was beyond honored to talk to this amazing group of SAA graduates. They are overflowing with passion and talent. I wish them nothing but the best of luck!! Until next time :) Stay creative y'all!