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Diane Hoskins ’79: How going off-track can lead new SA+P graduates to become integrators of ideas

“Design is not a luxury,” the Gensler global co-chair told advanced degree recipients. “It’s for everyone, everywhere.”
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Diane Hoskins speaks on an indoor stage, at a lectern bearing MIT’s logo
Diane Hoskins ’79 delivers the Commencement address to the SA+P Class of 2024. Hoskins is the global co-chair of Gensler, an international architecture, design, and planning firm, and a trustee of the MIT Corporation.
Photo: Maria Iacobo
man in an orange graduation gown speaks at a lectern on a stage, with a couple dozen people in ceremonial garb seated behind him.
Dean Hashim Sarkis welcomes graduates and their guests to the SA+P Advanced Degree Ceremony at Kresge Auditorium.
Photo: Maria Iacobo

For the graduating class of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning, the advice they received from their highly accomplished Commencement speaker may have come as a surprise.

“The title of this talk is ‘Off Track is On Track,’” said Diane Hoskins ’79, the global co-chair of Gensler, an international architecture, design, and planning firm with 55 offices across the world. “Being ‘off track’ is actually the best way to build a career of impact.”

Before a gathering of family, friends, and MIT faculty and administrators at a full Kresge Auditorium, Hoskins shared how her path from MIT led her to have an impact on spaces that inspire, engage, and support people around the world.

While hard work and perseverance likely paved the way for the Class of 2024 to be accepted to MIT — and begin what many assume is the first step in establishing a career — Hoskins posed that there was no point on her professional journey that felt like a predictable career path.

Instead, less than a year after graduating and landing her “dream job” at an architecture firm — which proved to be disappointing — she found herself working at a Chicago department store perfume counter. There, she happened to connect with a classmate who mentioned that a firm in Chicago was hiring, and that Hoskins should apply. Upon her initial visit to the firm’s offices, she said, something “clicked.”

“I was impressed with the work, the people, and the energy,” said Hoskins. “I liked the scale of the work. These were serious real projects all over the world, multidisciplinary teams, and complex challenges. I dove in 100 percent. The work was hard, and the push was real, but I learned something new every day. I knew that was the type of environment that I needed.”

Hoskins later worked at architecture firms in New York and Los Angeles, and then allowed her curiosity and interests to guide her to a variety of professional venues. Intrigued by the impact design could have on the workforce, she moved to corporate interior design. That work inspired her to go to the University of California Los Angeles, where she earned a master’s degree in business administration and developed an interest in real estate. For three years, she worked for a major real estate developer and explored how business owners and developers impacted the built environment. She then returned to architecture with a more robust understanding of the connectivity between the many disciplines the assembled graduates represented.

“Because of that unconventional, off-track model, I amassed a unique breadth of knowledge and more importantly, I understood how things fit together in the built environment,” said Hoskins. “I became an integrator of ideas. It created an ability to see how design and architecture connect to the world around us in powerful ways. Because of this, I ultimately became CEO of one of the largest design firms in the world.”

Perhaps most important, Hoskins — who is also a trustee of the MIT Corporation and a member of two MIT visiting committees — reminded the graduates that their work will touch the lives of millions of people everywhere and their impact will be “real.”

“Design is not a luxury,” she said. “It’s for everyone, everywhere. I know what it means to touch the lives of millions of people through my work. And you can, too.”

SA+P dean Hashim Sarkis opened the ceremony by welcoming guests and sharing his reflections on the Class of 2024. In preparing for his talk, Sarkis asked faculty and staff to characterize the class. “Diversity,” “self-advocacy,” and “vocal” were the terms repeated across the school. 

“Unhappy with the many circumstances that shaped your world, you took it upon yourselves to point to inadequacies and injustices, to assume your responsibilities, to defend your rights and those of others, and to work to fix things,” said Sarkis, who referenced the loss of innocent lives in ongoing wars, political polarization, climate disasters, and the resulting inequities from these global problems.

“Class of 2024, your outlook toward the world is indispensable, because the world is not in a good place. We have tried our best to deliver it to you better than we have inherited it. In many cases we didn’t. In some other cases, however, we did succeed. For one, we did select the best students … our generation needs the help of your generation. We have learned a lot from your self-advocacy and its power to steer the world to a better place. For that we thank you, Class of 2024.”

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