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SCI-Arc’s Commencement 2020 Marks a Joyful Finale to a Turbulent Year

On September 13, 2020, SCI-Arc held its annual commencement ceremony to celebrate and honor the hard work, dedication, and achievements of this year’s graduating class of B.Arch, M.Arch, and EDGE postgraduate students as the culmination of their studies at the school. SCI-Arc’s 2020 graduation took place via YouTube Live, marking the end of a thrilling and eventful month at SCI-Arc, which included its renowned Graduate Thesis Weekend.

people on green screen
Wendy Guerrero accepting the Merit Graduate Thesis Award from SCI-Arc Director Hernán Díaz Alonso

A virtual affair, the evening kicked off with a series of invigorating, galvanizing speeches, led by Director Hernán Díaz Alonso, who opened the ceremony by welcoming and congratulating graduates, staff, faculty, and guests tuning in from around the globe. “We could not be more excited or filled with more pride and hope to see you move through what has been the culmination of your SCI-Arc career, compounded by a soldiering through of incredibly challenging times,” he said. “From a global pandemic to national uprisings for racial justice, this is proof that no matter the situation, no matter what obstacles we’re presented with, being an architect is about navigating the reality we are a part of in order to shape the larger cultural context; an opportunity you have each embraced in unparalleled ways.”

Díaz Alonso, alongside Vice Director John Enright, Undergraduate Program Chair Tom Wiscombe, Graduate Programs Chair Elena Manferdini, and Postgraduate Programs Chair David Ruy appeared live via green screen from the SCI-Arc building, their digital visages projected onto a larger-than-life virtual podium and background.

Graduate Programs Chair Elena Manferdini
Graduate Programs Chair Elena Manferdini

Delivering the commencement address was Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble, who offered poignant words of encouragement and reflection to the graduating class. “There’s something so special that you can carry with you from this kind of educational experience that you’ve had at SCI-Arc—of your faculty, and of the kinds of work that you’ve been able to think about in these transformative and nontraditional ways,” she noted.

Dr. Noble discussed the value in “bumping up against limits on accident,” and how during her graduate research, which eventually led to her subsequent work in algorithmic bias, she was confronted by the limitations of representation among search engine technology. She posed a challenge to the graduates: “I invite you to ask yourself what are the values and the models that you are developing as you organize your own work, when many of the models and the values in computing, in entertainment, in education, in politics, in healthcare are indeed failing us—they are just insufficient to meet the needs of the majority of people in our society.”

Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble screenshot
Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble

“It’s an incredible moment to graduate in 2020,” said Noble, “when so many of these systems are failing to step into the vacuum to envision and propose, to organize and enact new kinds of value-based systems; a moment where we get to imagine a future for ourselves in ways that the world doesn’t encourage us to do.”

Following Noble was a presentation by Deborah Garcia (B.Arch ’17), which took the form of a film incorporating atmospheric sound and sweeping cinematic Los Angeles landscapes from an increasingly distant cosmic view—à la Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot—narrated with sincerity by Garcia herself.

“Today in this moment we acknowledge the world that you come into—a difficult environment with treacherous terrain, it hides both wonder and hostility,” commented Garcia. “We acknowledge that you after your time here, now set forth into a world unlike the one your predecessors faced when they too had to leave this place; but you are also equipped, smart, vigilant, flexible, wary, resilient in ways that have not been seen before.”

screenshot of Vincent Yung
Vincent Yung (M.Arch 1 ’20)

Graduating M.Arch 1 candidate Vincent Yung rounded out the trio of speakers, with a warm, congratulatory note and a rousing call to action for his fellow classmates. Quoting Dr. Brene Brown, Yung spoke about the power of courage and discomfort; of recognizing that an architectural practice encompasses a mutual state of both. “By continuing to show up to Studio is to practice normalizing the discomfort of doing unfamiliar things,” he said. “When the pandemic shifted our world, we once again practiced normalizing discomfort, but as we were not strangers to spatial discomfort, we were able to carry on and make a plan on how to rebuild.”

“To the continuing students,” added Yung. “Embrace the locality of your work understand that even though we aren't together in studio you can still build an arena of courage and comfort for yourself remember we have done it before.”

zoom grid of students
SCI-Arc's Graduating Class of 2020

Taking the place of the distribution of diplomas to each graduate were swirling, exhilarating digital graphics framing personal videos sent in by each student in a segment introducing the class of 2020, intercut with congratulatory messages from faculty and staff, injecting an aura of touching hilarity, creativity, and a very SCI-Arc specialness to the livestreamed occasion. Awards for each designation in all undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate programs were then announced by Díaz Alonso and Enright, the video dispatch cutting live to each winner to capture their real-time reactions, which lent an intimacy to the moment and allowed viewers, friends, and family to share in the joy of the recipients. The complete list of 2020 award winners is below.

Virtual DJ
DJ Shuga Shay

The evening erupted in a digital performance interlude followed by a jubilant, boisterous dance party via Zoom, where SCI-Arc students, graduates, faculty, staff, and leadership gathered virtually to the skillful sounds of DJ Suga Shay to honor and celebrate the graduating class of 2020.

To purchase limited edition, bedazzled apparel specially designed to commemorate SCI-Arc Commencement 2020, visit the SCI-Arc online store here.

2020 Academic Designations and Award Recipients

SCI-Arc Service Awards

Faculty input as it relates to service.
Alejandro Loor (B.Arch)

Joy Dai (M.Arch 1)

Jonathan Warner (M.Arch 2)

Alpha Rho Chi Medal

Faculty input as it relates to leadership, service and professional merit.

Nancy Ai (B.Arch)

Henry Adams Medal

No Faculty input, Top GPA

Nancy Ai (B.Arch)
Christina Griggs (M.Arch 2)

Graduation with Distinction

No faculty input, Top 10% GPA for each program.

Nancy Ai (B.Arch)

Ka Leung Wilson Chan (B.Arch)
Alexander Kardanovskiy (B.Arch)
Dutra Brown (B.Arch)

Pei-Shin Phoebe Ou-Yang (B.Arch)

Zoe Małecki (M.Arch 1)
Robert Sipchen (M.Arch 1)
Vincent Yung (M.Arch 1)

Christine Griggs (M.Arch 2)
Grigorios Kokkotis (M.Arch 2)
Richard Mapes (M.Arch 2)
Justine Poulin (M.Arch 2)
Jonathan Warner (M.Arch 2)

Jennifer Rufener (MS Architectural Technologies)

Polina Timchenko (MS Architectural Technologies)
Tucker van Leuwen-Hall (MS Architectural Technologies)
Jules Benillouche (MS Architectural Technologies)

Soledad Chamorro (MS Design Theory and Pedagogy)
Frederik Emil Seehusen (MS Design Theory and Pedagogy)

Alonso Toledo (MS Design of Cities)
Romano Ian Dayagbil (MS Design of Cities)
Anush Harutyunyan (MS Design of Cities)
Shanar Moslehy (MS Design of Cities)

Andre Zakhya (MS Fiction and Entertainment)
Richard Cottrell (MS Fiction and Entertainment)
James Halliwell (MS Fiction and Entertainment)
Meryem Lahlou (MS Fiction and Entertainment)
Christian Pepper (MS Fiction and Entertainment)
Suyang Ina Chen (MS Fiction and Entertainment)

Merit Undergraduate Thesis Awards

In recognition of an outstanding undergraduate thesis project.

Ana Antoni + Andrea Velasco (B.Arch)

Dutra Brown (B.Arch)

Ka Leung Wilson Chan / Yipeng Liu / Zixiao Kiwi Zhu (B.Arch)
Sicheng Dex Hu + Nicholas Wu (B.Arch)

Nandar Sally Lwin (B.Arch)

Chuwen Ong (B.Arch)

Hongjian Qin + Chi Fong (Jacky) Wong (B.Arch)

Sarangan Sinarajah (B.Arch)

Merit Graduate Thesis Awards

In recognition of an outstanding graduate thesis project.

Wendy Guerrero (M.Arch 1)

Linzi Ai + Jui-Cheng Hung (Both M.Arch 2)
Ryusuke Rish Saito (M.Arch 1)

Robert Sipchen (M.Arch 1)

Sam Kaufman (M.Arch 1)

Vincent Yung (M.Arch 1)

Liu Qiao (M.Arch 2)

Christina Griggs (M.Arch 2)

Hsinming Fung and Craig Hodgetts Postgraduate Thesis Prize

For the best postgraduate projects of the year.

Tucker van Leuwen-Hall (Architectural Technologies)
Ian Romano Dayagbil (Design of Cities)

Soledad Chamorro (Design Theory and Pedagogy)
Andre Zakhya (Fiction and Entertainment)

Blythe and Thom Mayne Undergraduate Thesis Prize

For the best undergraduate thesis of the year, reflecting SCI-Arc’s core mission to test the limits of architecture.

Abel Maqueira + Phoebe Ou-Yang (B.Arch)

SCI-Arc Gehry Prize

For the best graduate thesis of the year, reflecting SCI-Arc’s core mission to test the limits of architecture.

Zoe Małecki (M.Arch 1)
Saleh Jamsheer (M.Arch 2)
Richard Mapes (M.Arch 2)
Justine Poulin (M.Arch 2)
Irvin Shaifa (M.Arch 2)