Message to the Class of 2011:
Good afternoon, faculty and staff, students and parents, family and friends. I would like to thank you all for being here today, and in recognition of Mother’s Day weekend, I’d also like to extend a very special greeting and thanks to all the mothers in the audience, including my own.
There are a few, rare moments in life, when some of us are blessed with the feeling that we are doing exactly what we were meant to do, and that we are also doing it to the best of our own abilities. We strive to reach these transcendent moments, and this goal is probably what led many of us to enroll here at American University.
Last summer, as I stood alone atop the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, just a few meters above the iconic sunken ship where so many had lost their lives, I felt one of these rare moments.
I was working as a documentary video producer for the National Park Service in Honolulu, in a job arranged by Professor Chris Palmer. Early one morning, I hitched a ride out to the monument before dawn with a cleaning crew, and then waited hours to catch a narrow window of time between when the crew left, and the first tour boat arrived. As the sun rose over the harbor, and the crew’s small boat pushed off the floating dock, I checked my watch…I had 35 minutes alone with my HD camera and tripod to try to capture the complex emotions one feels when standing alone atop that hallowed deck.
As one of the few people who have ever had this opportunity, the pressure and sense of responsibility to document this moment was great. But I felt confident, because this was also the moment I had been training for here at American for three years, and the time had come to perform.
I have been making short documentaries professionally since my first semester here at AU, when Professor Bill Gentile recommended me for a job at the American News Project. He did not recommend me as an intern, nor as an assistant. He told my future employers I was ready to produce, and then he told me to go in there and get the job!
But he, along with Professors Dotty Lynch, Lynne Perri, Richard Benedetto and Jim Wooten, didn’t send me into that interview empty-handed. They had prepared me well. During my first class at AU, called “2008 Presidential Election”, these professors had taken a group of students to New Hampshire to cover the “first in the nation primary”, and they ran our class like a professional newsroom out on the campaign trail. It was “hands-on” experiences such as these that equipped me well for the interviews and jobs that would soon follow.
This was the quality about the School of Communication that attracted me most when I first began searching for a graduate school. Not only are AU professors teaching, but they also work constantly in their respective disciplines. This creates “real world” contacts for their students, and they actively encourage and facilitate professional experiences out in the field. During my time here, I’ve experienced this strategy directly through many other professors as well, including my mentors Maggie Stogner, Larry Engel, Sandy Cannon Brown, Brigid Maher, Russell Williams, Chuck Lewis, Mishi Ebrahim, Pat Aufderheide, Sarah Menke-Fish and John Douglass.
And of course, Professor Chris Palmer is also a firm believer in the value of these opportunities. After I took his class in 2009, he recommended me for a paid scholar position at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, where I worked for the next year, writing, producing and editing short, documentary videos. One year later, it was Professor Palmer again who created the AU partnership with the National Park Service, then recommended me to his friend Chuck Dunkerly, who hired me for the job in Pearl Harbor. This assignment gave me the chance to produce four meaningful, historical shorts about World War II in the Pacific, and put me in the position to experience that powerful moment atop the USS Arizona that memorable day last summer.
So did I make any mistakes? Absolutely. But this is all part of the process. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “The only man who never makes mistakes, is the man who never does anything.” Despite my mistakes, as I set up each shot, pressed record and stood there silently for 30 seconds, I felt I was doing exactly what I had always wanted to do, and that I was doing it to the best of my abilities.
But this moment was just a glimpse, a hint of good things to come. As we all go forth today, we should feel confident that AU and SOC have prepared us well, but also never lose sight of the fact that we can always improve upon our chosen crafts. In closing, I’d like to say thank you to the whole School of Communication, for giving me one of the first, but definitely not the last, of many fulfilling career moments to come.