Tom Nielsen’s 2016 Commencement Remarks

Tom Nielsen at 2016 CommencementGood evening graduates, guests, and college staff.

As the college’s chief academic officer it is my privilege, following our longstanding tradition, to introduce your faculty speaker. Before I do that, I’ve been encouraged to share a few thoughts about my own experiences and discoveries at Bellevue College–since this is my last commencement as an officer of the college. I have spent an entire professional lifetime here, and later this summer I’m going to discover something new called retirement.

So as I reflect on my BC journey, what do I want to share with you?  First, I want you to know that I am a Bellevue Community College graduate, just like all of you.  In June of 1974, I attended a commencement ceremony much smaller than this one, where I received an AA transfer degree.  From there, I went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Architecture, with some time out in between to work in the profession.  I had been anticipating a fulfilling career practicing my craft, but an unexpected phone call intervened.  A friend of a friend called me –there was no Linkedin in 1982 – and said she had just been hired as Chair to build an Interior Design program at Bellevue Community College.  She needed someone to teach a class in architectural drafting.  I had never thought about teaching but I thought it wouldn’t hurt to talk with her.  That fall I was assigned a single course as a part-time instructor, and from there I never looked back.

I discovered that teaching was fun and rewarding; I enjoyed sharing things I knew and helping others discover their passions.  I also discovered that my interest in building could extend beyond physical buildings, to the building of programs.  My journey at Bellevue College led to a tenured faculty position in Interior Design, including serving for many years as the program chair.  Some of you are graduating from our Interior Design program tonight, now one of the top programs in the nation.  My journey at Bellevue also led to the discovery that I could be an effective leader on a larger scale, first as the Dean of Arts and Humanities, and finally in a position of senior leadership as a Vice President.    That is a very different story from the future I had envisioned as a young architecture graduate.

So what would I like you to take away from this brief history?

First, be open to discovery, to serendipity–that surprise and joy of discovering something unexpected that really works for you. Teaching was that for me.   What will your life’s discoveries be?

Don’t be afraid to follow opportunities.  Have dreams and make plans, but don’t overlook an opportunity because it doesn’t exactly match your vision.  After a professional lifetime of working and learning in higher education, I now have multiple and varied skillsets.  I’m still an architect too, and I’m a much better one thanks to everything I learned from the hundreds of creative students who collaborated with me in more than 13 years of teaching.   What unexpected opportunities will you pursue?

Embrace your talents and strengths, knowing that these are transferrable and will serve you well every day, no matter what you decide to do.  I’ve relied upon and applied my design skills every day throughout my career as an instructor, leader, and administrator.    What are your strengths and how will you use them?

Listen to others and be collaborative. You know a lot but you don’t know everything.  The power of multiple minds working together generates a powerful gestalt.  The collective effort of more than 1500 BC employees helped you to achieve the milestones we are celebrating with you tonight.  What great things will you accomplish with the help of others?

And finally, I’ll take this opportunity to thank all of you graduates, because you are the reason we all do what we do.  I also want to thank our excellent faculty and dedicated staff, our exceptional team of instructional leaders and deans, and my colleagues seated behind me on the stage, who have supported and guided me through my own discoveries over 34 years at the college, as we worked to help you discover and achieve your dreams.

Graduates, where will your Bellevue College degree take you?

Watch the full 2016 Commencement here.


Leave a Reply