College of the Redwoods Commencement Speech
How can I comment on the unique and beautiful experiences we shared this year, in
this strange town, with its lovely forests and dramatic beaches, its deep roots in the
history of woodworking? Is there some universal metaphor that can do this training
justice? I am not sure. But maybe, going through this program, is a little bit like
falling in love.

Somehow, we learn about College of the Redwoods Fine Woodworking Program.
Maybe from a graduate, or one of Krenov’s books or even on the Internet. Probably
at some point, we interact with a piece of furniture from here. And what we see and
feel is a deep connection between a maker and an object, an intimate relationship,
something special. And that feeling draws us in. We make our way here, maybe after
years of pining, or maybe spontaneously, we just know right then, we have to be

Let me tell you, we have no idea the rollercoaster we are in for.
Those first weeks are fraught with insecurity and questions. I’m too slow, too
careless, too sloppy. Will I ever get this blade sharp? Can I really make a “perfect”
board? Why do I have to build my own tools? What on earth is a Sow’s Ear and why
does it look so much like a cabinet? Is this easy for everyone else? We leave each day
overwhelmed, we fall asleep exhausted, we wake up anxious and excited. We learn

to see with new eyes, we learn to touch with a new sensitivity. It is the longest 6
weeks in our lives, we wonder have we only been here for a day? A week? A month?
Yet, somehow we perform all the tasks we are set, it is a right of passage, a coming of
age. We land those shoulders, we fit those pins and tails, we take perfect shaving
from a perfect board with a handmade plane, we make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.
No matter our actual years, as craftspeople we are all young, naïve and hopelessly

We catch a flicker of allure in the wood room. Standing there, some board, so
beautiful, we want it. We beg for it, plead David, “let me have this one, she is so
perfect, I promise to treat her right”. And eventually, maybe begrudgingly, David lets
another one of his precious boards out of the wood room and onto our bench. Oh the
wonder, even the flaws are assets, we love those cracks and knot holes, the story of
a life well lived etched into her surface. The way the grain swoops so elegantly, the
way the sunlight hits the wood creating a whole spectrum of color. We are nervous,
tentative, we scrape a little off here, take a plane stroke there. We make plans, we
chart out our forms, the perfect proportions, whatever it takes to do justice to this
beautiful thing. Finally, when we think we’ve got it figured out, we take our board
on a first date to the machine room. We return with her in pieces, we’re afraid, have
we gone too far? We take few days off, mull things over. We cut joinery and chip
away at her, long hours at our bench building a relationship. We go home at night
worried we’ve messed things up, been too cavalier, rehashing over in our heads
what we would do differently next time. We get advice, asking the more experienced

craftspeople how this works, were so scared of messing it all up! We learn how to
treat the board right, that we need to stay sharp, that when we find a knot hole, we
have to treat that place differently with great care, giving respect to board’s life as a
tree in the ground, its history. We build something together, with many late nights,
many painful surprises and plenty of good ones too. Some days we cannot do a thing
right, other days whoosh by in a whirlwind of euphoria, plane shavings flying with
abandon. We have to be brave, make bold moves, embark on terrifying glue ups, fit
drawers and hang doors. We decorate our beloved with pulls and hinges. We dress
up her in the finest shellac.

Finally we are complete, we take a step back and look at what we have made with
this gorgeous piece of wood. Maybe we’re still in awe of her, maybe we had a more
tumultuous relationship, fraught with paralysis, tear out and patch jobs. Ultimately
what we made together was small, simple, solid and sweet. In it, was contained all
our first endeavors, our successes and failures, our triumphs and despair. With that
piece, we got to know ourselves, we got to see what was important to us, and what
made us tick, what we liked to do and what drove us mad with frustration. We
confronted our childhoods, our deepest insecurities, and our proudest moments. We
were shown how we act in a time of crisis, how we mourn a loss, how we rise to a
challenge, how we persevere.
Eventually, that relationship has to end. We have to move on, both of us. We might
cling for a while, dragging out the last weeks of synergy, making sure everything is
right between us before we part ways. We are complete. We have learned what we

needed to from each other, and now we have to move on, to have more complicated
relationships. Ones that will allow us more freedom of expression. We will delve
into the darker side of substrates; we will become manipulative enough to throw
our beloveds into a steam bath, forcing them to bend into unthinkable shapes. We
will cut and glue up wretched miters, build unconventional jigs, template route
curves and loose all reference. But that first love will always guide us, reminding us
that we do not need to break all the rules to make something meaningful.

Krenov wrote,
“When we see a fine piece of cabinet-making, we should look closely, and think
about what it means, and remember that it is not just pieces of wood put neatly
together, but a measurable part of an honest craftsman’s life.”

These small and beautiful things we’ve made here together are just that. Take a
moment to visit our work at the highlight gallery. And bear witness to all those
honest moments hung up on the walls and displayed across the floor. Those are our
hearts and souls on display.

Of course, none of this would be possible without our instructors. Laura, David,
Budlong, Greg and Ejler, We owe you more gratitude than we can ever express.
You claim that we do all the hard work, and yet year after year we come through
those doors having never cut a dovetail, used a handplane or wielded a scraper. And
year after year we leave as craftspeople. You are the guiding force, you are the ones

standing over us, sharpening our eyes, our hands, our minds. And you will come
with us everywhere we go. Every time I cut dovetails, I will remember Budlong
telling me to cut as close as I dare, to sneak up on perfection. When I get ready for a
glue-up, Greg will be there reminding me to mark everything, as my IQ will drop as
soon as the glue leaves the bottle. When I am frustrated and wanting to quit for the
day, Laura will ask me in what way tomorrow will be different from today. (and I
will tell her that I’ll be wearing my lucky pants). Ejler will jump into my mind when
the shellac is applied as a true Californian, until it feels just right. And David will
always be there in the end, touching the edges of my cabinets, pretending to cut his
fingers on the sharp cornerss. The word instructor does not even begin to describe
the job you all do, neither does chief bottle washer. You are mentors, collaborators,
therapists, angels, family. This is not your average cheap trade program at a
community college. And that is because of you. You are what makes this place what
it is.

I would remiss if I just thanked our instructors. For behind each of these
craftspeople, is a network of dedicated partners, children, parents and friends who
supported them in this tumultuous year of love and heartbreak. It is no small job
being there, day after day, as we return home, our hands cut up and our minds
spinning, fretting over some hairline gap, puzzling some nuanced design move. You
are the unsung heroes of this story, thank you from all of us for your patience and
your commitment and your delicious cooking.

Class of 2015, now we go off on our various paths, to the far corners of the continent
and across the world. Just as we had to love and leave our first projects, so do we
have to love and leave this magical place. But we are changed inside, whether we go
off to wield a handplane, or a nail gun, a laptop or a zither we will do it with a new
level of self-awareness, with a new sense of possibility. I am in awe of how much we
leave this place with, that deep inside of us was always the potential to strive for
perfection, we just didn't know it was there before. We will bring that into our next
endeavors, whatever they may be.

As Krenov wrote: “You stand there with your skill, patience, and something even
more unique- and you feel alone. It is a critical point in your life; you are afraid, yet
you want to go ahead and do it. ... Stick to what you believe in; go into the work and
listen. Forget about competition. Find a pace and a balance that make sense out of
long hours.”

You all are the finest group of craftspeople, and likely the finest people I will ever
share a workspace with. It was a honor and a privilege to work alongside you this
year. Thank you.