Beloved faculty honored for commitment to students, industry
Chris Lyons was having a hard time controlling his emotions.
A video of a host of his former RIT students explaining the profound impact he had on them rolled before a large crowd at the Rochester Advertising Federation’s 28th annual ADDY Awards on March 14. The touching tribute garnered thunderous cheers. But now, he didn’t know if he could get through his speech.
For how he’s helped and inspired those around him, Lyons, a beloved adjunct faculty in RIT’s School of Design since 2004 and freelance illustrator and designer, received the Silver Achievement Award at this year’s ADDYs, held at the Joseph A. Floreano Riverside Convention Center. It is a nomination-based honor given to an individual for their creative ability and contributions to the Rochester advertising industry and community.
As Lyons took the stage, it was fitting that former students Sarah Casale ’15 and Teysia Parks ’15 (both graphic design) were there to offer Lyons a hug and words of support to settle him down.
“They turned it around and said, ‘We’re right behind you, you got this,’” Lyons said. “It centered me. I get as much from my students as they get from me. I know that, and I love it.”
It was a small thank-you for Lyons’ staunch commitment to the success of his students — which is what elicited nominations from Casale and others.
“He’s been everything for me and for a lot of people,” Casale said. “I wouldn’t be the same person without him.”
The Rochester ADDY Awards brings together local professionals and college students to celebrate and recognize excellence in marketing and advertising. The local awards event is part of the American Advertising Awards’ three-tier national competition, with winners advancing to district and then national levels. In addition to Lyons, a host of RIT students and alumni won Gold and Silver ADDYs at the local competition.
Now collected, Lyons received a standing ovation for his thoughtful speech about how his students inspire him and keep him going.
Standing behind the lectern, Lyons told a story of how friends of his are retiring and ask when he plans to. Thing is, he has no such plans.
Lyons doesn’t know how he could possibly walk away from his career as an illustrator, designer and educator. He considers none of them jobs; they’re passions.
“After I came out of advertising, I was looking for meaning in my work, and I found it teaching these kids,” Lyons said of his 15 years, and counting, at RIT. “You can see the effect that you’re able to have on these students if you’re really in it with them — if you’re genuine about wanting to do what’s best for them. If you take yourself out of the equation, it’s amazing what happens.
Casale is one of many examples of former students being appreciative of Lyons’ guidance.
Lyons helped her land a job at ESPN a couple years ago and was there to advise when she felt it was time to move on and return to Rochester. Again with the support of Lyons, Casale landed at Optic Sky, where she is a motion graphics artist for the local production company founded by Aaron Gordon ’13 (film and animation).
“He would do that for any student, no matter how many years it’s been,” Casale said. “If you want to go somewhere, he’ll figure it out. That’s why he deserves to win.”
Casale said Lyons’ encouragement never wavers. Emails to him are answered within the hour and he routinely makes himself accessible for chats over coffee and phone calls.
“Some of the people I’ve talked to just reaffirms everything I know about him — he’s always available to talk,” Casale said. “And he will do that for literally all of his students, which has to be thousands of people at this point. I don’t know how he has the time, but thank God he does, because he has helped so many people get to where they are.”
Leah Hall ’16 (graphic design) considers Lyons more of a friend than mentor “because he makes you feel like a friend. It’s less about looking up to someone than trying to get you to where you should be.”
That approach is appreciated by his students.
“He treats you as a professional, not as a student,” Casale said.
“We know we can trust him,” said Hall, who traveled from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to see Lyons get honored. “He’s our inner monologue.”