2017 Valedictorian: Ariel Magidson


Photo courtesy of AAU Publications.

Academy of Art University valedictorian and School of Interior Architecture & Design major Ariel Magidson hasn’t taken a single semester off since she arrived at the school in 2014. In addition to the regular spring and fall semesters, Magidson took classes every summer intersession, summer semester and winter intersession throughout her Academy education. 

“I treat [school] like a job,” she said. “I may not have earned money, but I’m earning a grade and I want to do my best every single time. Everything I put out is to the best of my ability and if it’s not, I’ll go back and do it again.”

Magidson’s ambitions and her desire to succeed didn’t stop at taking a flurry of classes each semester but also culminated in awards and recognition by brands in the industry. In 2016, she placed second in furniture company Eric Brand’s Mentor Competition and her entry from the Sherwin Williams STIR Student Design Challenge placed in the Top 10 out of 1,000 applicants. 

“I used to joke around and say, ‘Just fake it ’til you make it,’” Magidson laughed. “[At the time] I may have thought I didn’t know what I was doing, but I was actually doing something right because you start to work through the processes—so I always kept trying. I eventually realized I wasn’t necessarily faking it, I was just doing it how I wanted to do it by being myself.” 

Like most art students, Magidson drew and painted as a little kid. Her dad’s side of the family were art dealers but the idea to pursue an arts education didn’t cross her mind until she left the University of Arizona. 

“They were always an influence but I never took it seriously because I thought art was supposed to be fun,” she explained. “I was good at it in elementary and middle school, but I never thought it was going to turn into a career.”

Magidson’s career trajectory was foreshadowed when she was a little girl. She remembers always rearranging the rooms in the house she grew up in, oftentimes her mother saying “the cleaning fairy came for a visit” when she found Magidson had once again reorganized her office desk. 

“I would go to my friends’ house and say, ‘Let’s clean your room,’” she said. “They probably hated me for it but to me, it was so much fun.” 

Magidson’s take on interior design today focuses more on maintaining a “happier and healthier” lifestyle, both for the space’s inhabitants and the environment. A bulk of Magidson’s designs and renderings bridge sustainability with accessibility, using green materials in an effort to preserve the Earth. She’s the youngest person to pass and receive a LEED AP IB+C certification, which grants that she is knowledgeable in sustainable building practices to preserve and improve the current environmental status. 

Her design process primarily focuses on understanding the space and evaluating her client’s needs and current situation, sometimes adding, subtracting or changing the space to dictate the room’s flow and movement. A handful of her projects are dedicated to creating access, especially for individuals with special needs.

“Certain colors and lighting types, the way you sit and stand can affect your mood,” she said. “I especially encourage activity and use [the way] our natural body moves to influence the room. There’s a lot known about circulation, how you get through places and even down to colors and materials that influences how we feel.” 


Valedictorian Ariel Magidson. Photo by Bob Toy.

Throughout her acceptance speech during the Spring 2017 Commencement ceremony on May 11, Magidson alluded to “Mr. Self-Doubt.” She spoke of it as a being that hindered her creative stride at the beginning of her Academy career, but eventually became a life force in her drive to succeed at her craft. 

According to Magidson, Mr. Self-Doubt was there from day one and will continue to trail her as she pursues her next endeavor as a designer at One Workplace. She said she has learned to confront Mr. Self-Doubt head-on and to trust her instincts and the structure the Academy has laid out for her.

She tells the graduate audience that she still wonders, “Have I made it?” And she provides the answer, praising and commemorating her fellow graduates: 

“If you turn around, Mr. Self-Doubt is waving back at us. Challenges will continue to present themselves but you must trust the foundations and creative process. We will endure and be open to critiques and criticism. The fear that someone might find out I’m not as good as I thought I was will linger but from our creative minds came beautiful artists. We worked hard, pushed Mr. Self-Doubt aside, and at some point along the way we bloomed. 

“We are artists and we should always trust ourselves. Take a look around you: We are strong enough, willing enough and ready for anything; it wasn’t easy but we did it together. We learn from each other’s mistakes and triumphs but we could’ve never done it alone.”