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2011 Commencement Speech

Ted Roach

MFA, Outstanding Graduate Scholarship Award recipient

Ted Roach

After six years spent working in the film and television production world of Los Angeles, Ted Roach moved back east to pursue a slightly different career path. In 2008, he moved to Washington, DC and enrolled at American, focused on studying documentary while working in the heart of national politics and journalism. Since then Ted has produced, directed and edited dozens of web-based, short documentaries, for companies such as the National Park Service, the Investigative Reporting Workshop, the American News Project and NOAA’s Ocean Media Center, all while pursuing his MFA in Film (which he will receive in May 2011). During this time, Ted won 2 CINE Golden Eagle Awards, 4 TIVA-DC Peer Awards (including Gold Awards for Feature Documentary Editing, and Best Student Documentary). He also received several student film awards, including being selected as a national co-finalist for the 2010 Student Academy Award. His films have screened in over 30 film festivals, won several festival awards, and have been broadcast internationally (more information at ). Currently Ted is directing, producing and editing a feature-length documentary about an undocumented Mexican family caught up in the throes of deportation (Summer 2011 release date). Ted holds a BA History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in addition to his projected MFA from American (May 2011). Most recently, he was awarded the 2011 American University Outstanding Graduate Scholarship Award, and was selected to be the SOC graduate commencement speaker.

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.

What have you gained from your time in SOC?

My time at the School of Communication has helped me identify and target the specific areas of the filmmaking craft that I need to develop and improve upon, and then given me access to a collective base of knowledge and experience to work towards these goals.  Along the way, both the individual professors and the program as a whole have also introduced me to many new interests and techniques that have steered my career in a new direction. I have been introduced and recommended to many influential filmmakers and broadcasters who will undoubtedly help my career in the future. Overall, the experience has fostered the knowledge, experience, credentials and confidence I need to compete at the highest levels of professional filmmaking.

What is the one experience you've had at AU/SOC that you feel will best prepare you for your future career/education/life?

I think the most influential experience I’ve had at AU has been the time I’ve spent working at the Investigative Reporting Workshop.  Over the course of 18 months, I co-produced and edited a series of 50 HD videos, culled from over 100 hours of interviews with some of the most respected names in journalism. Luminaries such as Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Seymour Hersh, Christiane Amanpour, Mike Wallace, Helen Thomas and Ben Bradlee all gave very candid, revealing interviews, addressing moments in history when journalism “spoke truth to power”. This assignment helped prepare me for the future in many aspects.  When these videos are released, I will have quite an impressive addition to my portfolio.  This project really shows the best of my work to date.  But more importantly, the lessons I learned along the way from Charles Lewis and Mishi Ebrahim will be with me throughout my career, not to mention the advantages of counting them as friends and supporters.  Finally, the opportunity to truly study these interviews and learn from the greatest names in journalism has provided me with a rich, diverse base of journalistic history and knowledge that will continue to serve me well in the future.

SOC Commencement 2011

Filmmaker Barbara Kopple will speak at the American University School of Communication 2010 Commencement Ceremony

Watch video and read speeches from SOC's commencement ceremony.

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Messages to the Class of 2011

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Leah-Michelle Nebbia