Imposter Syndrome and Taking Flight Life lessons and professional wisdom from Jason Branch's 2019 Commencement Address

by Naomi B. June 20, 2019

Jason Branch, Class of 2019, delivered the Commencement Address for the SVA graduating class on May 15th at Radio City Music Hall. Representing 357 Master’s degree candidates, as well as 21 graduate departments and offerings, Jason urged his cohort to contribute, strive, and grow.

Jason Branch and undergraduate speaker Samantha F. Savos

“I often have a conversation with my classmates about imposter syndrome,” the honors student admitted in the opening of his speech. “The idea that you’re not a practitioner, you’re not a designer, you’re not a craftsmen, you’re not an artist, you’re not an illustrator. You just pretend to be those people, going through the motions but undeserving of the title.”

Often we feel less than, in comparison to someone else’s skill, explained Jason. There’s the idea that we’re doing something wrong and are somehow inadequate, he continued. Rather than idealizing the end result, it behooves us to look at the process. The Wright Brothers broke ribs and legs and endured other injuries before achieving flight. President John F. Kennedy’s memorable “we choose to go to the moon speech” was delivered in 1962, with Neil Armstrong’s famous spacewalk only taking place seven years later, after many crashes and mistakes.

“It takes courage to overcome imposter syndrome….It costs something to go somewhere. It’s expensive to go from Point A to Point B.”

Upon reflecting on his time at MFA Interaction Design, one lesson from the beginning of Jason’s tenure at the school is particularly memorable. Department Chair Liz Danzico told the younger Jason that she wants her students to leave the program with “the courage to make the hard decisions.”

3. Master's Degree Candidate's Address: Jason Branch

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“Keep striving, keep going, keep practicing, and hopefully in two years or 20 years from now, whenever you look back on your life or your work, you’ll realize you’ve been the person you’ve always wanted to be. The imposter was just an illusion.”

– Jason Branch

"Courage comes with growth,” Jason realized, after deep consideration of Liz’s advice. “Growth is in the process.”

As students in the Interaction Design program take 60 credits and complete innumerable projects, Jason’s focus on obstacles rather than the end result felt appropriate to mark the commencement milestone. A fair percentage of the graduating class were studying outside of their home countries and in their second or even third languages, thus compounding the challenges they faced and surmounted, both inside and outside of the studio.  

“Class of 2019, you have something to contribute," said Jason in his closing. “Keep striving, keep going, keep practicing, and hopefully in two years or 20 years from now, whenever you look back on your life or your work, you’ll realize you’ve been the person you’ve always wanted to be. The imposter was just an illusion.”

Jason is bound for San Francisco, a city home to many others in the program's alumni community. There he will serve as a Senior Product Designer at Raise Me, a social enterprise redefining the way high school students access financial aid. Follow him on Twitter or Instagram.

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