Message to the Class of 2012
Welcome, faculty and staff, students and parents, family and friends. And a very happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers present.
We live in a time of enormous change, innovation, and progress. From harrowing videos broadcast live from the streets of the Arab Spring to the media blitz of the Presidential election, all the way to Lady Gaga and “Charlie Bit My Finger” – the way we communicate and interact with our world is changing at an unbelievable rate.
A few months ago, I experienced this firsthand while working at the Associated Press. The AP was launching a massive technological overhaul of how they produce and broadcast video and, thanks to the help of Dean Larry Kirkman and the Dean’s Internship program, I was able to be part of the team working on it. It’s amazing what technology has made possible. With a device no bigger than a backpack, a journalist on the streets of Cairo could now shoot high definition video and broadcast it live to the United States. For me, working on this project was an unbelievable opportunity to put my film and video education to use, while also giving me the chance to work with and learn from some of the best journalists out there. And I had the unique opportunity to witness up close how interconnected the world is becoming.
Here at American, of course, that’s not news. Students go out to New Hampshire to cover the presidential primaries. With Classroom in the Wild, they shoot environmental films on the Galapagos and in the glaciers of Alaska. Film students study in the Czech Republic or have top executives in LA teach classes via Skype. At American, we understand that the world extends far beyond our homes and beyond our campus. And even – though many in Washington refuse to believe it – the world even extends beyond the Beltway.
And in all of this, in a world with constant change and where the jobs we’re doing in five years might not even exist today, here at American we are learning both the skills we need for tomorrow and the tools we need for a lifetime.
I’ve had the opportunity to spend two years working with Professor Chris Palmer and the Center for Environmental Filmmaking. One of the most important things I learned from Professor Palmer – aside from how constructive criticism sounds so much better when it’s delivered with an English accent – is the importance of working hard toward short-term goals while also planning out our long-term ones.
Here at American, we have the perfect opportunity to do that. At the same time that we’re learning skills in our classes and our assignments, we’re also getting the chance to show what we can do professionally. In Professor Sarah Menke-Fish’s TV Production class, for instance, we created a series of hilarious music video restaurant reviews. Called “Flavortones,” it was a fun mixture of Glee and the Food Network. A really unique and creative idea – and I can say that because it wasn’t mine. I was just the guy dancing like a buffoon in the background.
But in that class, not only did we learn the technical aspects of creating a television show but we pitched the idea to local executives and had it air weekly on NBC Washington and on their website. It was then largely thanks to my experiences in that class and the inspiration of Professor Menke-Fish that I was able to get a job with the Daily Show. There I did everything from help the writers do research to crash a protest at the Egyptian embassy. A perfect mix of journalism and entertainment – and it sure didn’t hurt to work down the hall from Jon Stewart. And that’s only one of a number of ways my professors have helped me, both in learning the tools of my craft and in getting the opportunity to put them to use.
In a time when so much of the world of communications is changing, my professors have inspired and encouraged me to embrace that change and innovate along with it. The cameras we use will become as obsolete as the twenty pound VHS camcorder most of my childhood home movies were shot on. The software we use will become hopelessly outdated. The very industries we’re entering will change dramatically and reorganize and reconfigure themselves.
But we will be ready for it. We will be ready for anything because we have learned the fundamental tools necessary for a lifetime. The importance of story, of structure. The importance of networking, building relationships, and working hard.
And so whether it’s putting seven thousand words together for the New Yorker or a hundred forty characters for Twitter. Whether it’s writing the next Hollywood blockbuster or producing a two minute webseries. However the world changes and whatever may come, we will be ready for it.