Where in the World is Lauren Veronica Valdez?

When I wasn’t chosen to give the graduation speech (they picked a 47 yr. old mom who came back to school), one of my professor’s suggested I print out a ton of copies and have my siblings hand them out at graduation. Well more than a year later, going through old documents, I thought I should finally do something with this.

Our Time

During our time at Berkeley, all CED students develop a strong relationship with Wurster. Whether it is with pride, joy or remorse that we call this place our home, we still find the need to defend it like our child when people refer to it as ‘the ugliest building on campus’. That is exactly what William Wurster would want us to do. He said that he, “wanted it to look like a ruin that no regent would like…It’s absolutely unfinished, uncouth, and brilliantly strong…it has been lived in; it’s been used, it’s been beaten up and everything else.” Wurster never wanted the building to look complete; he wanted it to represent a process. The building had to be as radical as the idea of forming the College of Environmental Design. Previously to the formation of CED, students in design schools were mainly concerned with designing for the sake of aesthetics. Our founders, Jack Kent, Catherine Bauer and William Wurster, had a vision that design schools had to go beyond this by implementing a new school of thought that emphasized interdisciplinary collaboration and scientific research dedicated to improving social conditions. Graduating in 2009 into a time of great crises and much uncertainty, we need to look back at our roots and learn from our founders and re-conceptualize what the role of the architect/planner should be.

It was during my third year that I discovered my true passion for architecture. After joining the Global Poverty and Practice minor, I became awakened to my global consciousness. As I learned of the theories, the case studies, and the disheartening complexities of global development, it seemed obvious that designers could apply the design process to coming up with solutions. Problem solving is what the students of the College of Environmental Design are trained to do. We look at complex relationships between what is needed and what we have, and by researching, diagramming, observing, questioning, analyzing, and evaluating, we come up with a solution. These skills seemed directly applicable to development work.

I spent the following summer testing out these skills while participating in a design/build project in Brazil. Being able to see the outcome of a small design project that had such an impact on the day-to-day lives of a disadvantaged community was extremely powerful. When I came back to Berkeley, I was bursting with ideas for my next project. With two other students, we started the Design Bolivia DeCal. While our classes didn’t focus on development work, we designed a course to apply what we had been taught in our technical classes, and apply the way we had been trained to think in our studio courses to a design/build project. When we were interviewing prospective students, we were so encouraged by the amount of students who were craving for an experience like this to add to their architectural education. We knew we were not alone. Twenty of us went down to Bolivia over winter break and made our designs come to life.  Through these experiences, I found my path towards the kind of architect I want to be, one whose professional life is in line with my moral conscience.  CED gives us a freedom that we celebrate, an ability to take the tools we learn and apply them to outside fields in which we are most fascinated with.

The greatest thing about this college and university is that we are given so much opportunity to find out what we care about and pursue it. If you think something is missing in your education, CED allows you to look around and find it, to start it, to change it. The idea behind the College of Environmental Design is that as designers we can collaborate between multiple fields and understand how to solve physical and societal problems. The vision of the college was a brainchild of the Great Depression, and graduating into what is nearly shaping up to be a Second Great Depression it is our chance to look back to these values the college was founded on and apply them to our professions. The Ego is dying and being a ‘Star’ architect is going out of style. We need to remember those who make up the society we are serving, whether it is in the Bay Area or in a developing country. We have so much technology and knowledge, but we need to learn how to apply it. We NEED wisdom. This is our time, our opportunity, to change what it means to be designers.  Great change only comes from great crisis. So don’t be afraid, embrace this window of opportunity.

If we want to change our reality, we have to change the way we see ourselves. Not as designers or builders, but as activists. This is not a new idea, but the timing has never been more imperative.  Our power in society is beyond policy, it is about how we view the world—how we live. Anthropologists, social scientists, and other humanitarians can study the way people live, but we get to have a physical, quantifiable impact. This is a powerful opportunity to reach our greatest potential as architects, designers, planners—as innovators. Time is accelerating. There has never been such urgency for us to step up and redefine our professions; it is our opportunity to get it right this time. As builders, we need to let go of the needs of the ego and devote ourselves to finding solutions to the situations at hand. We are never going to solve our environmental, economic, or global problems if we are not apart of this movement at a local and global scale. Our responsibility is so great that we can’t ignore the social and political implications our work has. Graduating from the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley, we have a habit of creating social change and redefining history. Berkeley students don’t jump on the wagon—we start the band. We can’t be afraid of this crisis because we hold the power to fix it.

So I have been saying for months that I was going to write a blog specifically about how to approach applying for a Fulbright.  The first entry focuses on the questions of What is a Fulbright?  Why You Should Apply for one? and How You should Approach the Application.  With this first blog post I would like to give an overview of the Fulbright process, provide a rough timeline, and then throughout the summer provide more detailed advice on how to approach the application.  I would like to note that there are countless ways to approach the application, and it is different for every country, field of interest, and person so if anyone else out there wants to share their application experience, please please please comment, contact me, start a blog, etc.  Read the blog here.

A year after graduating, I was asked to give a speech at Berkeley’s 2010 GPP minor graduation.  I was having a super difficult time writing this, so to get inspired I wandered around SF, got my tarot cards read, and then tried to write at a cute little tea shop in the Castro.  Somehow, I ended up getting into an almost 4-hr long conversation with this guy sitting by me.  We talked about our entire life stories…about the universe, our spirituality, and our place in this world (He was a leo, for those who are wondering).  Anyways, at one point he told me, “You just gave me like 10 speeches in this conversation, so why don’t you write about any of those things”.  I love those angels who come into your life for one fleeting moment, and they tell you exactly what you need to hear.  Well to make a long story short (do I ever do that), I decided to just write an outline and get up and talk for the speech.  Giving this speech was very rewarding, because it allowed me to put this past year into perspective.  So here it goes…

Thinking Critically, Acting Positively, Growing Spiritually

I have had such a hard time writing this speech, and for everybody out there who knows me, you know I’m a talker.  I am supposed to pass on my wisdom, but since graduating, I have never felt so lost.  Fortunately for me, I have always thrived off the idea of being lost.  I started romanticizing the idea of being lost when I got my driver’s license and realized that I had zero sense of direction.  My sister would always get frustrated going anywhere with me, but I was constantly reminding her  (and myself) that being lost was an adventure.  Getting purposely lost is one of my favorite activities. You never know what you will discover.  There is only so much you can learn from a guide, but there is limitless knowledge you can discover on your own.  I guess that I am lucky that from a young age I became comfortable with not knowing where I was going and trusting in the universe to get me where I needed to go.

Since graduating, I have had to frequently remind myself of this.  I can’t  believe it has already been a year, but I am glad it has flown by, because this year has definitely had its ups and downs.  No matter what you studied or what you set out to do, GRADUATING IS HARD.  Of my group of best friends, one started a Ph.D program, one was doing Teach for America in Miami, one was running an NGO in Peru, some stayed in Nor Cal, and I moved home tirelessly searching for a meaningful job, yet all of us felt completely lost.  I kept telling myself and my friends that it was okay for us to feel lost because this is a new phase of transition, but it is difficult to see this clearly while you are going through it.

It is the same thing you go through when you come back to Berkeley from your Practice experience and you can’t really define your feelings.  You feel inspired, yet disheartened.  You expand your global consciousness, yet you feel totally disconnected from your own reality.  It becomes a “disorienting dilemma”, because you can’t quite figure out your place in this world.  This is how I felt after coming back from working on a design/build project in Brazil after finishing my 3rd year of studying architecture.  My experience in Brazil helped me define what kind of architect I wanted to be, but defining what I wanted, made me realize what my architectural education lacked.  It was difficult returning to my overly conceptual studio courses where we were never asked to think about what I found the most important aspect of our forms, the people.

It was the Global Poverty and Practice minor that salvaged my passion for architecture.  It gave me the space to create my own path within my architectural education when I came back from Brazil—lost, but with a full consciousness of my responsibility in advancing my social architecture ideals.  The Global Poverty and Practice minor freed me from thinking that success was defined by (very sarcastic tone here) working really hard in my major, taking boring internships, applying to top grad schools, and working in order to live a comfortable life.  The minor made me realize that success was not about living comfortably, but about finding fulfillment by LIVING PURPOSEFULLY.

By Living Purposefully, I mean seeking to be aware of everything that has an effect on our motives, actions, values and goals, and being willing to live the truth of these values.  The GPP minor constantly reminds us to be aware, which is the first step to living purposefully.  Being aware enables us to critically examine ourselves and the world we live in.  Before we go off on our practice experiences, we are taught to be aware of our actions and thoughts, so that we can participate in an exchange of care, knowledge, and respect.

This constant reflection and Critical Thinking holds us accountable to Acting Positively and behaving in accordance with that in which we see and know.  This in turn leads to our own Spiritual Growth.  By spiritual growth, I mean our ability to unlock and understand the depths of our own experiences and how we relate to the world.

The GPP minor gives us a lens to see the world, which does not stop with the end of our practice experience or graduation, but something we will carry on in whatever we pursue.  The minor taught me that I will never find fulfillment in doing anything that doesn’t force me to think critically, act positively, and grow spiritually.

I actually quit my job the other day, because it was not giving me any of these things. Although I am still struggling with this period of transition, I have taken these lessons in and want to share them with you.  When I graduated, I felt so much pressure to just get a 9-5 job or apply to grad school, but I realized that if I did these things just because it was expected of me and not because it was the right time and place for me, I would stop discovering for myself and never reach my full potential.  The minor showed me that it was okay to be lost, because being lost allows you to find your own path.  Graduating is such an amazing time for us to learn, discover, and grow.  In my year of discovery, I starting working for LIVE! From the Future…with Stuart Paap (an internet comedy talk show), starting doing some improv/sketch comedy, working on a community organizing project in Wilmington, CA, and I will be starting a Fulbright in Brazil in 2011.  The most valuable thing we have is our youth, so use it to your full potential.  Don’t be afraid of this new period of transition.  You are allowed to be lost.  Follow your passions, do what you love, and don’t settle for anything or anyone that doesn’t force you to think critically, act positively, and grow spiritually.

“Extraordinary Machine” is one of my favorite songs by Fiona Apple.  I live by this quote, “If there was a better way to go then it would find me”.

I am not joking when I say I come from the greatest family ever.  Someone recently asked me to prove it, and I said “Challenge Accepted” (in the voice of Barney from How I Met Your Mother).  We are just too hilarious for words.  When you come from a gigantic family, you just never know what is going to happen.  The more I analyze my mom and dad, the more it makes perfect sense that all 5 of us kids are all so crazy (in the best sense possible). My BFF Jason wrote songs for each one of my sisters (because they each called him begging for one), and I went through the massive amounts of footage I have, and made them each a quick video for their Christmas gift.  I still have to make one for my mom and dad, but I am saving it for the next holiday.

Dude, My baby brother

Selina, My favorite Sister

Karina, My Mini Me/prodigy

Daniella, My Guaranteed Maid of Honor

It looks like I haven’t added anything to here in awhile, but if you check out the Projects and Valdez Troop page there is a lot of new stuff.  I have finally gotten comfortable living at home and stopped complaining about it. Who cares being 22 is about figuring life out.  If I am still here when I am 26, then I can complain. Anyways, here is one of my latest films for my digital editing class.  It makes me really want to just take off to another country right now.

An Abstract Adventure from lauren valdez on Vimeo.