It was a random Freshman Preview Day when Professor Jill Olmsted sat next to my parents and I at the lunch portion of the event. After realizing I was interested in entertainment, she said, “I taught Guiliana Rancic,” the now managing editor of E! News. I put down my deposit for American within the next 24 hours. Coming from Wilmington, Delaware, though I loved entertainment, I had never actually met anyone or done anything entertainment-related – just read magazines and websites and watched movies, trying to drink it all in. Now, through the glory that is The Eagle, I have had the chance to interview stars like Queen Latifah and Zac Efron in person, talk to James Franco on the phone, and take front row pictures at a Jason Mraz concert. Those experiences in turn helped me get amazing internships at Washington City Paper and Clear Channel Communications, where the skills I learned in classes like reporting and Broadcast Journalism I and II came into full play. Broadcast Journalism II is a little like voluntary torture, but it’s worth it to see what an actual day in a newsroom is like, running around like a chicken with its head cut off – but at least it’s a really well-informed chicken. It is because of classes like that, that I feel like I’m coming out of AU with an actual education about the field I am going to enter. I became so enamored with SOC that I even became one of its ambassadors in hoping to show others how much it could do for them, as well. Even more theoretical classes in the School of Communication like Journalism Ethics with Professor John Watson (who is so brilliant I’m convinced he could make me think my own mother is liable for a crime I saw him commit) teach us that all we can do to be prepared for the real world is expect the unexpected armed with the knowledge we’ve been given. After four years at American, I think I’m finally on my way to being able to do just that.
Message to the Class of 2011:
It’s been a difficult year. That may be the understatement of the decade. Countries across the world are facing revolutions, dictatorships are being overthrown, roles are being challenged in government, and the economy is slowly rising out of the trenches.
We’ve been told for the past four years that when we graduate, we’ll be faced with a jobless market. We face the inevitable questions from numerous relatives at every holiday, “What are you doing after college?” We try to hide our panicked faces, and it’s true we’re facing uncertainty, perhaps even for the first time. College is ending, real life is looming, and the last Harry Potter film comes out in July – it’s the true end of an era. But as School of Communication students, we know deep down that everything will be alright, because SOC students aren’t like every other college kid you’ll meet. We don’t just look for jobs – we make them.
In a quickly and constantly evolving workplace, members of SOC, only as mere students, are making their own films, planning their own community events, writing their own news blogs, and inevitably working the Twitter for whatever internship they receive (as being below the age of 25 makes nearly anyone a “social media expert.”)
Even in classes, we take what most expect the college experience to be and turn it on its ear. We don’t just sit in lectures, learning how to produce. We actually produce. Take my major, for example. Ask any graduating senior about their experience in Broadcast Journalism II, a class where we assign stories, report, shoot, edit, anchor and produce a television show in a five-and-a-half hour time span, and they will look at each other with a kinship and closeness that is usually reserved for soldiers who served in the same infantry. We sit in the endless blue light of the computer monitors for hours in the Media Production Center until we can’t see color anymore, editing the same scene over and over with only each other, a bag of Peanut M&Ms and a Red Bull as our companions. But then we see the end result, our résumé reel, a five- or six-minute tape filled with the work that we spent a blood and sweat soaked semester on, and it’s all worth it. Our work is palpable and tangible, and perhaps most importantly, able to be used beyond our experience inside this university.
Public Communication students aren’t just making fake portfolios that serve as placeholders for when they actually have experience. Their classes are working with real life companies that need a fresh perspective, giving market insight from a young person’s point of view. Film and Media Arts students don’t simply watch movies. They take trips to the wetlands and other countries to immerse themselves in other cultures and make films that reflect the life they are observing. We intern at major public relations firms, gather stories from Capitol Hill, and take classes under bonafide Oscar and Golden Globe winners. That’s what makes SOC so special. We aren’t just reading books or scanning PowerPoints about how to make environmental documentaries, news shows, or put on a charity event. We’re actually doing it.
Maybe we won’t become Steven Spielberg right off the bat or be planning the next White House gala within a month of graduation, but we are SOC students. We persevere, we chase, we work our way up, and we never stop trying. This is what makes us unique at American University, but most importantly, this is what makes us unique as SOC graduates.
As a student ambassador for the School of Communication, I’ve personally seen the looks on prospective students’ faces – half-wonder, half-complete and utter confusion as to what to do next in such a new world. Though our looks on graduation day may somewhat mirror those 17- and 18-year old faces that seem so far in the past, we have something different that separates us from our adolescent selves. Experience. Drive. Passion. A willingness to rise above the mediocre and be the best, no matter what path may lie ahead.
As we sit in Bender Arena on May 7, breathlessly waiting for that moment when our name is finally called and we can walk across the stage to receive the culmination of four years of hard work, we must remember one thing: We possess the ability. We possess the ability to do great things and be successful people, using the knowledge we’ve learned right here at AU. We’ve written the scathing articles, made the groundbreaking films and represented the tumultuous companies – now we just have to do it outside these walls.
What have you gained from your time in SOC?
The thing I love most about SOC is their propensity for teaching students with a hands-on approach. As a broadcast journalism major, I didn’t just sit in front of PowerPoints and learn how to produce, edit or shoot. We actually got out in the field, interviewed people, edited, wrote and anchored projects, all under the same type of deadline we might be facing in the real world. I think many people’s fears when they go to college is that they will just be endlessly writing papers on topics they don’t particularly care about, but that has never been the case in SOC for me. Most of the skills that I have listed on my résumé were things I directly learned from professors (who have had their own first-class jobs in the field) and learning how to do tasks firsthand in a fast-paced environment, something I imagine will be invaluable to me in my future career.
What is the one experience you’ve had at AU/SOC that you feel will best prepare you for your future career/education/life?
Working for The Eagle, I got to experience many firsts, but I think the day I had my first in-person celebrity interview set a precedent for me in my own goals. It showed me that given the right facilities, motivation, and skills taught to me in a classroom, I possess the ability to truly go after what I want. Everyone in my high school in Delaware always kind of made it seem as though I was dreaming too big to want to work in entertainment, but with every new interview I do, I feel as though I’m proving to them, but more importantly, myself, that I can do whatever I set my mind to as long as I face it with the degree of professionalism and determination that I have honed in my journalism classes in the School of Communication. Working for The Eagle and attending AU in general has taught me that expecting the unexpected, going after what doesn’t seem plausible, and truly believing in yourself and your skills can take you further than you ever imagined. (And that Zac Efron is even more beautiful in person.)