Tag Archives: Graduation

2019 Graduation Season

Much like last year, graduation season is a busy time! This year, two of my best friends walked with their diplomas in hand. Kelsea Arsenault, an amazing person who is basically my sister, finally graduated with her Bachelors in Film from UNLV. Jonathan Fabian, my roommate of five years and avid dog lover, graduated with his Bachelors in Biomedical Engineering from Drexel University. With Kelsea graduating in May, Jon graduating in June, and my graduate thesis starting up, I had my work cut out for me this year. While balancing my full-time job along with my school work, I had to make my special graduates cheesy tee-shirts to commemorate their achievements.

Kelsea’s Graduation

Austin and I were thrilled to fly home again. We’d been away from Las Vegas for so long. We missed our families and the unforgettable taste of a Double Double from In-N-Out Burger. For months Austin would turn to me and say, “I can’t wait to fly home.” It was a much-needed vacation for us. I was in the middle of a crazy spring term in school, and Austin was working extra hours to save for our move this summer. We couldn’t wait to spend a week in the Vegas heat celebrating Kelsea’s graduation and her 23rd birthday.

UNLV’s Commencement was held at the Thomas & Mack Center. That morning I tied Austin’s tie and watched Kelsea go through several outfit changes before we all climbed into our rental car. She tried on three olive green shirts that looked nearly identical before she settled on the winning blouse…that she then covered entirely with her red regalia. We were all so excited for her; I’m sure none of us were thinking very straight.

Kelsea separated from us and her family to prepare for the ceremony with her graduating class. We waddled through the crowd following her parents until we reached the arena. Arriving an hour early, we were able to find the perfect seats. Kelsea’s nephew crawled onto my lap, and we sat waiting to see our graduate walk!

Once her class started walking, we were all trying to get the perfect photo of her. We took some of her sitting down, the moment she walked across the stage and shook the president’s hand…and then we lost her. She completely disappeared—she wasn’t in her seat anymore! Our phones buzzed, and Kelsea’s brother leaned in to whisper, “She already left!” The group ran outside to see Kelsea standing there smiling. She didn’t want to stay for the whole ceremony, it was too long anyway. We all laughed.

Since my graduation last year, our friends have decided to make ‘graduation shirts’ a tradition. All this means is that Theresa spends a few weeks designing tee-shirts for everyone as a way of celebrating in the cheesiest way possible. It’s a labor of love though! After my rushed design last year, I’ve taken careful effort to make these shirts fun and specific to the person wearing them.

Kelsea’s shirt was inspired by Panic! At The Disco’s first album A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. It was one of the first things we bonded over when we met in 6th grade, and she loves the album more today than she ever did in middle school. For a few days in April, we were batting around cringy sayings to go on the shirt. One night, Austin and I had come up with, “I Write Sins, Not Essays” after Panic! At The Disco’s 10th track, I Write Sins Not Tragedies. It was terrible and dorky and Kelsea immediately agreed.

Stylistically, there are a number of neat things going on within the album cover that I wanted to incorporate to the shirt design. I loved the vaudevillian aesthetic and it reminded me of the route I took for my undergraduate movie poster project. I used a half-tone effect on flower photos I’d taken in a flower shop while mixing legs in with the leaves. Kelsea felt legs were an iconic aspect in the album’s cover design. Personally, I thought it was cool they worked so well within the leaves. They didn’t stick out too much, but it was a cute nod to my inspiration. The shirt’s typography was directly influenced by the type from the album. I used an ornate typeface that resembled the type on the album cover and offset it with a lightweight sans-serif because I wanted to counteract its bold nature.

The shirt came out soft and lovely. Sure, it came in a few days late because the printer’s servers went down, but we still love the design all the same. It even worked out that the shirt was set in UNLV colors!

Jon’s Graduation

A few weeks after Kelsea walked with her diploma, it was Jon’s turn. It was so sweet: his parents and brother flew from California to support him. Austin and I were especially over the moon because we’d watched him perched at our dining room table for five years groaning at his computer as he pushed through lab write-ups and online quizzes.

The morning of his graduation, Austin and I picked up Dunkin Donuts. Jon was too excited to eat them. He wanted to make sure he had everything ready. I adjusted the hood on his regalia, and we left twenty minutes early to ease his nervous jitters. Much like at Kelsea’s graduation, Jon separated from us to join his graduating class and Austin and I found seats with Jon’s family.

Jon graduated in Drexel’s gym, as I did a year ago. Austin and I sat in the same exact spot my friends and family sat for my graduation. I thought it was poetic, but Austin insisted it was the best spot to get a photo of Jon. Either way, it was so cool to watch the ceremony as a guest, rather then a member of the graduating class. The graduation for The School of Biomedical Engineering was much shorter than my Westphal College of Media Arts & Design last year. After we listened to the guest speaker talk about the advances she’s made in her field for breast cancer screening, Jon stood to cross the stage. He was beaming, and we were all so proud. We took a thousand photos and it was over before we knew it. He did it!

Jon’s shirt was the second I’d designed for graduation season since he’d graduate nearly a full month after Kelsea. His shirt was inspired by his personality, as well as funny things I’ve observed from him as his roommate of five years.

If there’s one thing you need to know about Jon, he’s always wearing headphones. He’s been that way since we first met freshman year — it also explains why he only hears every other thing I say. I knew I had to incorporate that, but it wasn’t enough to build a design fully. I wanted it to have a cute quote like Kelsea’s shirt.

Austin, Jon, and I all settled on, “On a Roll,” as his quote. It was a clever nod to his unique habit of rolling every paper that comes in contact with his hands, contrasted by the visual of a rolled diploma. Jon rolls his receipts, gum wrappers, napkins, drier sheets, etc. It was the distinguishing factor that made this design special to him.

After I’d settled on the direction, I started to add elements that further solidify what I lovingly call a ‘Jon Puddle.’ It’s usually what emerges next to his computer while he’s studying for a midterm. It consists of a rolled napkin, a few rogue pumpkin seeds, tangled headphones (though he’s recently switched to cordless), and a couple discarded toothpicks. He always cleans up once the dust settles, but a new pile emerges once finals approach.

The color palette and execution of the design felt natural once I nailed my subject matter. Since Kelsea’s shirt had a palette that matched so seamlessly with her university’s branding, I wanted to do the same thing for Jon. I found a navy tri-blend shirt that was soft and blue enough to allude to Drexel University. From there, I sourced a white and goldenrod hue from the printer to ensure the colors appeared properly once the fabric was screen printed. I then started experimenting with line weight and illustrative styles to give the design a more ‘hand-made’ look. I wanted it to look sentimental and special rather than overly polished because the design is personal in nature. I referenced my stiff line drawing as a guide and transferred my drawing to Photoshop to merge my digital and illustrated typography.

In the end, I’m so happy with how my designs came out. I’m absolutely more proud of my friends’ monumental achievements, but these unique keepsakes are something we’ll hold close to our hearts for years to come. Not only that, but I’m thrilled that we’ll all have ample opportunities to wear matching outfits. We’ll be the coolest kids on the block with cheesy academic tee-shirts.

My Bachelors in Design

Five years ago, I was sitting in my graphic design class poking about Google. I had already finished my final for the semester and decided to look at design universities. I thought about going to Virginia Tech or Pratt for a while. I wanted a school where I could learn about design, but also focus on academics. Then, I stumbled upon Drexel University. I honestly couldn’t tell you what website I was on, but it ranked Drexel in the top five schools for graphic design in the country. Once I dug a little deeper and did some research, I decided to submit my portfolio. I’d been looking at a few schools, so it wouldn’t hurt to submit my portfolio and see what would happen.

It was in April of 2014 that I received my acceptance email. I decided to pick up my life and leave my friends, family, and cat in Las Vegas. I was moving across the country to go to Drexel University in fabulous Philadelphia, PA. It was one of the best decisions I’d ever made (aside from going back for my cat).

Last week, I earned my Bachelor’s of Science in Graphic Design. I graduated Magna Cum Laude with minors in Fine Arts, Art History, and Marketing. I felt accomplished, overwhelmed, and excited to share the moment with my friends and family. I’d spent the last three months before graduation planning and prepping my small apartment for the seven people it would be holding in June. In between writing long marketing term papers about sales forecasting and revisiting my design portfolio, I’d randomly pick times to wash my walls or scrub my air vents. I was buying air mattresses between classes and scheduling every hour my guests would be here with me. What can I say – I like a good plan.

My Graphic Design Senior Showcase display

The week leading up to my graduation was a little stressful because I had to take my final final exams and get ready for my Graphic Design Senior Showcase. Once I took my last Marketing final, I was able to sit down and truly appreciate the wave of love and support surrounding me. The night before my Senior Show, my mom put my dinner together for me for the first time in four years. I sat with my best friends, who had just got off their five-hour flights, and laughed about how I ordered Qdoba catering for them because I honestly can’t be bothered to cook. Alyssa, one of my mentors at Michael Graves Architecture & Design, even drove down to visit me at my Senior Show the following day. All week I reflected on how fortunate I am to have such positive and supportive people around me.

(Left) Receiving my diploma, (Right) Austin, Jon, and I take a picture in front of our Freshman dorm

Two days later, I sat in Drexel’s gym (which had received a full HGTV makeover), in an oversized gown, jittery and excited. After a few speeches, my row was ushered to the side of the stage to wait in line. Immediately my anxiety took over and waiting in line felt like it took ages.

I was worried I’d trip and fall, or forget to walk when my name was called. Before I knew it, I heard, “Theresa Tobin!” I rushed forward, shook President Fry’s hand, hugged my Graphic Design advisor, Bill, and then immediatly became a Drexel graduate. It was so sudden.

At that point, the rest of the names were called, and the ceremony wrapped up. Before I left for the summer, there was one final thing I had to do on Drexel’s campus, though. My boyfriend, Austin, and I met one of our best friends (and roommate) during our Freshman year. We all lived in a tiny dorm room in Calhoun Hall. After hearing rumors that Drexel was thinking of tearing it down, we wanted to take one final picture in front of the building on my big day. We ran over, took a few goofy photos, and went home to our reasonably sized apartment.

(Left) Magna Cum Laude Tee, (Right) Austin and I wearing the Magna Cum Laude tee at Shofuso Japanese House & Garden

Later that day, we changed out of our formal clothes, and into one of my graduation presents. Three months ago, my roommate, Jon, came up with the hilarious idea that we should all wear matching tee-shirts on the day of my graduation. The design was inspired by the work I did for Mutant Water Babies. In the past, I had pitched a logo tee-shirt as a revenue booster for the production. Though the idea was shot down, Jon really loved my design. We took the type-treatment I used for the Mutant Water Babies logo, and spelled out, “Magna Cum Laude.” Each of my loved ones (and a stranger online) bought shirts in blue and green – making us look like a family unit.

(Left) Standing on the bridge overlooking Manayunk with Kelsea, (Right) Manayunk newsletter

While everyone was here, it was so important to me that they experience my version of Philadelphia. Among other things on the list, I wanted to take them to Manayunk. It’s a small, creative neighborhood not too far away from where I live. I spent the entirety of Spring term in my Junior year, working on my Travel Newsletter for my Typography 3 class. We went to Lucky’s Last Chance, the burger joint I wrote about and featured in the newsletter, and walked down Main Street. We ended the day watching the sunset on the large pedestrian bridge overlooking the neighborhood. My best friend, Kelsea, took so many pictures of us in the ‘magic hour’ lighting, and it was a great way to end the day.

(Left) My dad and I before I got on the plane to leave for University, (Right) My mom and I after my Commencement

It was such a privilege to be able to spend a little less than two weeks with those I care so much for. Everyone that came to celebrate with me brought so much love with them. I could never thank them enough for all of their support.

For my immediate family, my graduation had a little more meaning behind it. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a soul alive who was more excited to see me graduate than my dad. There were times it seemed like he was more excited than I was! He’d always talk about how proud he was of me and how he couldn’t wait to see me open my own design firm – as though it would happen two days after I graduated. Unfortunately, he couldn’t sit with my mom and friends to watch me accept my diploma. He passed away this past November. It was very sudden. Every day surrounding my graduation, he was on my mind. I could picture him tearing up with joy, and it made me tear up. It was in those moments that I could feel him with me, and felt whole and proud of my accomplishment.

Graduation Invitations


Bachelors of Science Graduation Invitations

In December I sent out my graduation invitations. The process of designing them was so odd. I’ve found it’s always hard designing for yourself. It’s so easy to over-design, and there’s always something you want to change after production finishes. In my case, I didn’t have a huge budget. I’d be comping my design and sending them out by hand with my boyfriend, Austin. At every juncture of the design process, he kept production in mind. I, however, shot for the stars and designed whatever I wanted to. I didn’t think of how much effort printing and comping would take until I ended up with a three-tiered design with an intense die cut and a staple closure. I wanted to add twine as well, but you have to know when to stop.

I worked in between classes looking online for inspiration. I knew I wanted to use a gatefold that mimicked lace, but I wasn’t entirely sure what else I wanted to add to the look and feel. My school colors are navy and goldenrod. Navy is a beautiful, elegant color, but goldenrod is harsh. If I die cut my gatefold flaps to look like lace, using goldenrod in my design would look disconnected. I was interested in using a pastel yellow to reference the color, without beating you over the head with the actual color. I found a beautiful vintage wallpaper pattern online that used pastel yellow and navy together. It was floral, which I felt was appropriate for spring, and feminine – something that felt appropriate to me.

Once I had the floral motif combined with my lace, the rest of my design decisions fell into place.

The card I was sending out had to be more than just a card. I was sending it out so early because my friends and family live on the west coast, and they needed time to book their flights and hotels. Graduation season in Philadelphia is very hectic, and you have to book in advance. Otherwise, you won’t have any options. I wanted to include information about when the ceremony is, and where to RSVP, but I also wanted to include a list of hotels and where I live in reference to my graduation events. I could fit all of this on a huge sheet of paper, but I didn’t want to custom order envelopes. I needed to stick to a standard mail size, so I felt that a tiered system would be the best way to approach this. I created a tabbed system for the card so my friends and family could navigate my system easily, and kept the tertiary map information in the back.

Production was a small nightmare.

A month prior, I bought a Cricut die cutter, and it was one of the best decisions of my life. I bought textured navy paper at Michaels and ran all of my shells through my Cricut, so I wouldn’t have to sit with my X-Acto knife for days on end. The hard part came, weirdly enough, when I was printing. My file was huge and my printer kept seizing up. I couldn’t afford to buy speckle tone paper, so I simulated it in my design as an overlaid texture. Unfortunately, this made my file size huge. I tried compressing it as a PDF, turning it off and on again, and asking it nicely, but it wouldn’t budge. I needed to comp twenty cards, and one sheet of paper took thirty minutes to finish printing. There wasn’t much I could do. I decided to place two full cards on a larger sheet of paper to cut my print time down, and I sucked it up. While everything was printing, Austin and I sat at the dining room table cutting the cards out of each sheet of paper. We had the Cricut running in the background, while we stapled each card, one at a time, over the course of five hours of steady printing.

Months later, I revisited my design to shoot it for this post. I still love it (which is a good sign), but I’d be lying if I couldn’t find one more thing I want to change. I guess that’s just the struggle of a graphic designer. Luckily for me, I graduate in two weeks, all twenty invitations have already arrived at their location, and there’s nothing I can do about it. That’s the beauty of a deadline.