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Alumni Snapshot: Q&A with Carlos Garcia '05

Alumni Director Carrie Grimes loved meeting Carlos "Trey" Garcia '05 at our Severn Alumni Social in Los Angeles. Carlos will be sharing some of his work in the upcoming Art with Heart Alumni Art Gallery this February! If you are interested in having your artwork in the gallery, just email Carrie at c.grimes@severnschool.com.
Where do you live now and how did you end up there? What stops did you have along the way? Los Angeles, CA. Before that, Philadelphia, PA; Rome, Italy; & New Orleans, LA where I spent about a decade studying & working. New Orleans is an absolutely magical place that I would encourage everyone to visit at least once. After I'd outlived my useful life there, I ventured west in search of a more contemporary design landscape, which I absolutely found in Los Angeles.
 
Please tell us about your professional/career journey thus far. I've always had an idea of what I wanted to do with my life: to create & to make things. I jumped around to a lot of different creative outlets before I landed on architecture. For a while, I think I'd probably wanted to be an artist, though my parents spent a lot of energy trying to guide my energy toward something they saw as more practical. I don't know that I knew being an architect was really a thing that normal people could do; the profession seemed aloof & inaccessible. For the longest time, the only references I had were literary - Evelyn Waugh's Otto Silenus, Ayn Rand's Howard Roark. It wasn't until I found out that my father's cousin, a family man living in upstate New York, had quietly been an architect for the entirety of the time I'd known him, that it seemed like a possibility. This was pretty groundbreaking for me, learning that not only was this attainable as a brown person, but an apparently practical way to live your life.

I spent quite a while after that enrolling in summer art & architecture programs everywhere we could find them, from Maryland Hall to Clemson University. My parents & younger sister (Toi Garcia '09) got stuck in Hurricane Katrina after seeing me off for my first year of college, & I fell in love with a city born in the early 18th century finding itself reborn in the 21st. Fast forward to working part-time at two firms during my thesis years, splitting my time between offices where the expectations were high to a Master of Architecture program where the expectations were higher. I would often only catch an hour or two of sleep in my car or in studio in the wee hours of the morning. It was brutal, but I wouldn't trade it for any other experience.

 
What did/do you enjoy most about your career? The impact that design has on your life is tangible. Literally. Look around you right now; everything that you come into contact with which hasn't fallen from the sky or come up from the earth has been designed by someone. When was the last time you thought about the size of the keys on your keyboard? The length of your toothbrush? The width of your door? Zoom out a bit & you've got your car, your house, your town, your city. The way you move through these spaces has been choreographed by a relatively small group of people who spend months & years speculating about, experimenting with & studying the way you do everything. The built world is everywhere you go, & everything you do. What I find enjoyable about the profession is that if you do your work well, no one will notice. It just feels natural. Most people can tell you that they do or do not like an object or space, but aren't always able to articulate why they do. That's where we operate. 
 
What influence did Severn have on your life’s path? Your career path? First & foremost I think Severn was responsible for encouraging a level of intellectual curiosity that reached far beyond the classroom. Most of the students who move through the school don't realize it until they're in the next phase of their life, but they've been granted access to a very unique body of knowledge. Secondly, the faculty & staff have differing viewpoints that they aren't coy about sharing, & I think that's really important for young people to see & hear. It's important for students to realize that teachers aren't simply vehicles of consumable information, but fully realized personalities with vibrant lives & relationships of their own. From a practical perspective, it makes them relatable & thusly more effective teachers. More conceptually it forces a healthy skepticism moving into the real world; the information you get from a source is necessarily presented through the lens of that source, so it helps students to begin thinking more critically as well.
 
What are your favorite things to do in your free time? Typically, you can find me listening to music & sketching. The great outdoors, away from the built world, is my happy place. Camping, hiking, biking & running are all pretty high on my list.
 
If you could give advice to the Class of 2018 what would it be? Don't hedge your bets. Don't try to tailor your personality or skillset toward something you think other people want you to do, find something you're passionate about & chase it to the ends of the earth. Don't worry too much about trying to "be" successful; success means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. If you find something that you love to do, spend your days refining those skills & you'll get good - not all at once, but you will. If others see your passion & skill, they will support you.
 
Tell us about 2 things that bring you joy in life. The first thing has always been the fruits of labor, so to speak. Working really hard on something & seeing it actualized - breathing life into a concept or idea. The second is really just the natural progression of the first: seeing the ripples. They don't always go the way as planned, but if you're lucky, they'll impact someone else is a positive way.  We don't have long on this earth, but the most we can hope for is that we leave it a better place than when we arrived. Like the old Greek proverb says, "A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in." 
 
What teachers had the most influence on your at Severn? The first that comes to mind is Carol Duncan. She always knew that I could go further, even when I didn't think that I could. We made some weird stuff together, & I'll be eternally grateful for her facilitating the development of my right-brain. Left-brain would have to be Irene Sotiropoulos or "Ms. Sot," since none of us could spell her name correctly. She had extremely high expectations of her students, & I learned that skating by was absolutely not an option with her. She made me more industrious & disciplined than I'd ever been.
 
What is one of your favorite Severn memories? SAMPLES Week, I believe it was called. Still not sure what the acronym stood for, though I can remember that week being the proverbial candy shop while I was the kid with the sweet tooth. It combined everything I love: deep-dive investigative learning, art, theater, space-making, narrative & the faculty allowing our imaginations to run wild. I still find myself attempting to explain the concept in my adult life to others, with no avail.
 
What is the most valuable asset you inherited from your Severn education? Leadership, definitely. There's nothing more valuable than being able to organize a mess, to direct a consolidated effort toward a common goal. Severn was a great place to figure out how others see & internalize things; the classes were small enough to really learn about your classmates, but still large enough to have a bit of diversity, making that knowledge transferrable. More importantly, it is a great place to learn about yourself. You figure out the way you deal with pressure, managing expectations & managing time from a very young age. You're treated like someone who should be able to figure these things out, & when given that opportunity, I find that many do rise to the challenge.
 
Did Severn have a lasting impact on who you are today? If so, in what ways? Yes, but not in the sense that it taught me everything I needed to know. It taught me how to learn, a skill that has more utility than perhaps any other. It's a skill that compounds on itself & accelerates others, giving you the tools you need to make more tools. 
 
What 3 words would you use to describe Severn School? Respectable learning institution.
 
    • Carlos "Trey" Garcia '05

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