Red (Shirt) Talks

Photo of Virgil Abloh

The Wisconsin Experience is about more than watching games in Camp Randall and taking classes in Humanities or Grainger or Engineering Centers. It’s about preparing for change. The world is changing, and a UW grad has to be ready to adapt to — and lead — that change. WAA works to bring alumni back to campus so that students can begin to understand the world they’ll enter. In 2015, these efforts included fostering connections with Virgil Abloh.

“Nothing that you learn is actually useless,” Abloh assured a crowd of students in October 2015. He should know. Abloh has seen the twists that can happen to a career between academia and the working world. He came to UW–Madison to study engineering and has since made his name as an artist and fashion designer. He’s worked with Kanye West, been honored in Paris, bought into Chicago’s RSVP Gallery, and grown a clothing label, Off White c/o Virgil Abloh, to prominence. Very little of that has to do with civil engineering — on the surface.

“I use my engineering degree all the time,” he said, “and I think I don’t use it at all.”

His education taught him to multitask, to think logically, to challenge himself and others. “My education gave me something to rebel against in an articulate way,” he said.

“Whatever your ambition is, if you don’t leave here and do it within the next 30 minutes, you’re never going to do it.”
Virgil Abloh

Abloh was presenting at the 2015 RED Talk, an event that brings innovative alumni back to campus during Homecoming to speak with and inspire students. He was at the talk with his former UW roommate, Gabe Stulman, now a successful New York restaurateur.

WAA has worked to keep such alumni connected to the university and involved with fellow Badgers. Both, for instance, have received Forward under 40 Awards from WAA — Stulman in 2015 and Abloh in 2016. And Abloh was the celebrity guest designer for a special limited edition of WAA’s The Red Shirt™ (

WAA knows that alumni can contribute to students’ Wisconsin Experience by sharing advice and broadening their outlooks. And alumni can show students how the value of the UW will extend throughout their lives, no matter how those lives wander from the path they followed in class.

“Whatever your ambition is,” Abloh told the RED Talk crowd, “if you don’t leave here and do it within the next 30 minutes, you’re never going to do it.”