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Messages to the Class of 2010

Kelly Barrett

BA in Public Communication with a minor in Marketing

Here we are, graduates. We’ve made it through college – despite dealing with the war in Iraq, double-digit unemployment, an earthquake in Haiti, two flu’s – bird and swine – SARS, not one but two Snowpocalypses, Kate Gosseling on “Dancing with the Stars” and Sarah Palin in talks to get her own reality TV show. We stand strong, ready to head into the great unknown.

But the great unknown is nothing new. When I arrived at AU, I didn’t know what kind of career I wanted to pursue after college. I knew I liked to take photos though, so I went to work for The Eagle as a photographer. This job provided me, literally, with a unique lens through which to view AU – one of the nation’s most politically active campuses during one of the most politically exciting times in our nation’s history.

Hands down my favorite moment, which I’m sure I share with many of you, was when Senator Ted Kennedy came to endorse then-presidential candidate Barack Obama in January 2008. I was in the back of Bender and had climbed up onto an empty press table to improve my photo-taking view… until a Secret Service agent showed up and told me to get down. I obeyed, for about 3 minutes, then climbed back up. This happened a couple times, actually. I managed to get all my photos without getting detained, which taught me that sometimes the best shots you get in life are going to be the ones you weren’t supposed to be allowed to take.

In November, we gathered and watched, as Obama became President. We took to the streets of D.C., and again I took pictures. Many of you probably reported on the election or filmed or did whatever it is you like to do. I remember taking a photo of a student with tears streaming down her cheeks and seeing how despite opposing political beliefs, it appeared everyone was collectively celebrating. This moment taught me that our human connection and ability to unite during times of great triumph and progress prepares us for when we must unite in times of sorrow or stagnancy.

While these moments were extraordinary, for me they were even more so because while I was living them out, I was doing something I liked. You’d expect that I’m now planning to go into photography as a career. I’m not. Don’t get me wrong, I love photography, but the path I followed has allowed me to rediscover something else I love even more at this moment, which is writing.

Now, I don’t know most of my SOC classmates in real life…but thanks to the art of Facebook-friending that I perfected in the months following my acceptance to AU… that is, until I learned it wasn’t acceptable to friend request every person I had ever walked by on campus—I’ve been able to follow what many of you have been up to. And I must say, I’m impressed.

Our class consists of innovative filmmakers with millions of hits on their YouTube videos, of White House staff, of writers and editors who have worked in newsrooms both large and small. We have all taken on roles besides students during our time here at AU, even though, we’ve held no academic degrees. Believe it or not, a handful of us have even made money doing this work, though most of us have worked as modern-day slaves. Most of us already have our own Web sites, business cards and even personal assistants—oh wait, that was the kid over at Georgetown.

Whatever it is you‘ve done here in SOC, I hope it has been something you have liked and you have learned things that will allow you to grow. And if you haven’t done very much you actually liked to do yet, I hope you’ve listened to yourself and learned what those things are so you can move on from them. We have an obligation to ourselves to do so.

Despite jobs we've had or will have, our roles as learners will remain first priority. Most of the time this learning isn’t going to come from monumental events like elections and historical rallies. It will come from reading books. Interviewing people. Watching documentaries. Traveling. Making a documentary. Having a tweet-up. OK, just kidding, it won’t come from having a tweet-up.

The point is, we can’t stop learning, because here is our reality: Today we will be handed a degree and we will walk away with everything we’ve accomplished, but there will still be a chance some of us won’t land the job we’ve got our eyes on… or we will land that job, only to be laid off months later. There are no guarantees we will climb any career ladder. The ladders don’t exist.

Perhaps this is for the best. Perhaps this is what keeps us true to ourselves. Because our employment, or unemployment, underemployment, or “fun-deremployment,” will never define us. But if we let ourselves fall into doing something we don’t really like, or shut ourselves off from new lessons, we risk leading an incomplete and unsatisfying life, despite our job title.

The last four years have taught me that survival and happiness after graduation will be possible as long as you follow three simple steps: Do what you like, learn and move forward. If you ever feel frustrated at any point in time, start back at step one. If you ever feel overly complacent, you aren’t trying hard to do step two. If you ever feel bored or unhappy, it’s time for step three.

My congratulations for coming this far, graduates — now go do what it is that you like, learn and move forward.

Morgan S. Proffer

BA Visual Media with a minor in Marketing

There are hundreds of faces, remarkable lives and compelling stories [graduating alongside me this May].  We are all [graduating] because we share a unique and collective passion for those stories.  We have one such story of a father, a successful European immigrant who always nurtured his son, teaching him to work hard and think creatively, who had to watch his son, a student of communication and expensive private education, struggle to write a four minute speech.

Fortunately, my own struggle subsided and taking fingers to keyboard became an effortless task when I reflected upon what we have learned and experienced here at AU; with our professors, our fellow students, and most importantly, our TDR workers.  We have survived incredible challenges and reveled in terrific surprises together: the great Snowpocalypse that shut down DC, the constant mystery inside tavern tenders and the collapse of AU’s Starship Enterprise. We have endured through all of that and look where it got us...  Sitting around in blue dresses with funny hats on. [I’m sure you] all [will] look adorable.

As members of the School of Communication, what we do is inherently labor intensive.  We spend countless hours with each other, poring over computer screens, editing bays and iPads. We inspire each other. Challenge each other.  Applaud each other.  And marvel at the strength and determination it takes for each and every one of us to meet and exceed our personal and scholastic goals. We grow and learn together constantly, to now where I can say we are a family; like most families, a little dysfunctional, but a family nonetheless.

Luckily, my family of deft journalists, PR rock stars and film gurus are going into a world ripe with opportunity; a world that will rely on us, AU’s SOC graduates, to embrace our aggressively fast-paced world of technology while holding onto the importance and art of relevant and adept story telling. 

Contrary to what many may think, our future career paths couldn’t be filled with more potential.  The baby-boomers are retiring and companies want new, innovative minds to cope with emerging technologies.  Out with the old, in with the new... No offense mom and dad. Standard television networks are faltering.  Today is the day where a couple of students in a basement can create an entire television network, complete with worldwide distribution at virtually no cost.  What we have the potential to do now rivals that of any generation in history.

New media is our home, and our generation built it.  We are face-tweeting and my-booking to humans around the world at speeds that are too high for me to count - hey, I’m a Comm major!

But we’re in a time with limitless opportunity, and thanks to AU, we can seize it with the firmest of grasps.  Professors like Russell Williams who embrace the education of the future, allow us to teleconference with heads of industry from around the country.

Professors like Chris Palmer who, after handstand walking us to his office, will teach us more about ourselves, and how we can become better professionals and better human beings.  Chris has taught us that relationships are not only vital, they are everything. 

We have had the opportunity to travel.  I spent a year in France, studying at Sorbonne in Paris and business at CERAM near Nice.  I have grown spiritually, culturally and professionally. I have learned that just because I am 10,000 miles away from my mom doesn’t mean that I’m off the hook from teaching her that pressing the eject button won’t do anything to send an email.

As our moms and dads remember, we spent our childhoods pushing on boundaries, exploring the world and its limits.  Some spent more time exploring Jersey but we won’t hold that “situation” against them. 

Through all of this pushing, we were able to figure out the shape of the world.  We’ll, we’re big kids now.  That shape we once knew is constantly changing; we have to always be on our feet - quick, nimble adapters to the shifting landscape.  We are in a paradigm busting industry, where stagnation is just as bad as not donating to the new SOC building.  Hint hint. 

Thank you to Larry Kirkman for accepting my constant requests for a meeting, my family for paying more than I’ll make in the next five years, my professors not noticing an occasional absence or two, my classmates for raising the bell curve, and my fraternity brothers for allowing me to preserve my body in alcohol for a possible future donation to science.

So, before I leave all of you to go to Honduras for three months and spend too much time on Chat Roulette, I will request that those left in the real world add me on LinkedIn - after all I might need a real job when I get back. I have three months, but for most of you, real life happens in just a few minutes... Be tenacious, be courageous, and never forget that when you align your passions with your career, you will lead a gloriously happy and successful life. 

Rock on.

Suzanne Conte

MFA Film and Electronic Media

Graduation.  It’s exciting and terrifying all at once, isn’t it?  If you’re anything like me, the prospect of entering the “real world” will scare you into applying to grad school, or a Ph. D program (for you grad students who are trying to keep the college dream alive just a little bit longer).  Whether you’re bound for the workforce or a[nother] post-graduate degree, I have no doubt that the education imparted to all of us here at American University has prepared us to achieve our goals and realize our dreams.

By now we all know that technology is progressing so quickly that we struggle to keep up.  Think about how much the media has changed in our lifetime.  News reporting has become so advanced now that we actually find out the news BEFORE it happens.  Well, maybe not before it happens – I’m not ready for Minority Report to be real yet - but it seems that way, doesn’t it?  I often read about the top news stories via Facebook status updates before I hear about them on news broadcasts.  Maybe that says more about this generation and me than it does about the media, though.  Furthermore, going to the movie theater is becoming something of a novelty these days.  If you haven’t noticed, they’re trying to lure us back into theaters with the promise of a mind-blowing 3D experience.  Maybe they could lower the ticket prices and bring back regular movies?  That would be crazy.  Regardless of how the media technology changes, we must remain cognizant of one fact:  as the media-makers, we tell people what to think about.  The average person now is bombarded with information from innumerable sources every day.  It is our job to make sure that information is valuable, relevant, accurate, and interesting.   

Here at AU, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some extraordinary faculty and students.  I’ve noticed they all have two important things in common:  an unwavering passion for what they do and a deep desire to improve the world we live in.  Our professors have encouraged us to seek out the important stories, whether that means looking in our own backyards or across the globe to find them, and then to tell those stories in a way that will make people want to listen.  Professors Larry Engel and Chris Palmer, among others, guide students in documentary filmmaking while Professors Randall Blair and John Douglass help students explore producing and narrative filmmaking; however, many members of the faculty, work in both documentary and narrative, giving them unique insight into students’ work.  In addition, Professors Leena Jayaswal, Brigid Maher, and Claudia Meyers are excellent female role models for young women who want to go into film and photography.  In a male-dominated field, it is important for female students to have strong female role models and mentors who can help them navigate the industry.  

In addition to studies here at AU, I had the opportunity to study in Prague, Czech Republic.  It was by far the best experience of my life.  Through the dedicated efforts of Professor Gary Griffin, our Filmmaker-in-Residence, American University has forged a special relationship with the prestigious Czech film academy, FAMU – an institution so competitive that most Czech students must apply multiple times before they are granted admission.  Learning that fact made me feel especially privileged to be studying there and grateful that Professor Griffin has worked so hard to build a program for us that AU supports so well.   

As a film student and long-time film enthusiast, I cannot help but constantly draw connections between my daily life and films I have seen.  Movies are an indelible part of our culture; a barometer of social, political, and economic contentment or unrest; and, most importantly, an equalizer, a common ground to which we all can relate.     

On that note, here is some advice I picked up from the film, Wedding Crashers.  Some of the “rules” that the characters quote to each other are actually applicable, believe it or not, to your life and career. 

“Rule #6: Do not sit in the corner and sulk.  It draws attention in a negative way.  Draw attention to yourself, but on your own terms.”
Figure out what makes you unique and marketable, and run with it. 

“Rule #16: Always have an up-to-date family tree.”
That is, many of us intend to enter professions where opportunities and success depend on who you know; it is advantageous in any field, however, to remain educated on who the major players are, and how developing relationships can broaden your knowledge on the way to advancement. 

“Rule #29: Always be a team player.  Everyone needs a little help now and again.”

“Rule #60: No “Chicken Dancing” – no exceptions.”

“Rule #66: Smile!  You’re having the time of your life.”
People will always respond better to a positive attitude, even if you aren’t really having the time of your life. 

“Rule #80: Stop.  Look.  Listen.  At weddings.  In life.” 

“Rule #95: Try not to show off too much on the dance floor.” Demonstrate your skills with confidence, but a little humility goes a long way. 

“Rule #104: Be well-groomed and well-mannered.”
Good hygiene and etiquette are always in style. 

“Rule #107: Know when to abandon ship, if it ain’t floating.”
That doesn’t mean to give up whenever times are tough, but have the wisdom to know when it’s time to cut your losses and try again later. 

“Rule #113: Don’t look for opportunities; make them.” 

And finally… “Rule #76: No excuses – play like a champion!”
Thank you American University and congratulations Class of 2010!