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2012 Commencement Speech

Peter Kimball

MFA IN Film and Media Arts

SOC Peter Kimball

Born in Chicago, raised in Belmont, Massachusetts, and educated in Rhode Island, Germany, and Washington, DC, Peter Kimball is a young man of diverse interests and driving ambitions. He has worked as a teacher, a translator, and even a nightclub bouncer – all while pursuing his goals as a writer and filmmaker. In 2009, he enrolled in the film program at American University, focusing on narrative filmmaking and screenwriting while also making the most of Washington’s position as the center of national politics and journalism.  

While working toward his MFA at American’s School of Communication, he has also worked or interned at such companies as the Associated Press, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the Discovery Channel, and ARD German network news. Between going through hours upon hours of depressing “before” footage for Discovery’s Hoarders: Buried Alive and working directly with the amazing comedic minds at the Daily Show, Peter has gained an understanding for the wide spectrum of opportunities in the media industry and the need in every job to incorporate both creativity and diligent work. 

As a writer, Peter has placed in the quarter-finals of the Motion Picture Academy’s Nicholl Fellowship for Screenwriting and the semi-finals of the Slamdance Film Festival writing competition, as well as placing highly in several other major writing competitions. He has been involved in the sketch comedy groups Lenny Dee and Uncle Sketch and has written for such publications as Real Screen Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Huffington Post.  

Peter holds a BA in German Studies from Brown University in addition to his anticipated MFA from American. He and his wife, Anne – an emergency medicine physician – live with their obstinate beagle Rufus in Washington, DC.

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. 

Thank you.

What have you gained from your time in SOC?

I have gained an understanding for the wide range of career opportunities within the media industry. I came into American with a very limited view of what “film school” was. Once I got here, I realized the true scope of possibilities. My classmates were interested in making everything from environmental documentaries to political message videos to comedy sketches. They were interested in being cinematographers, producers, writers, directors – and for all of us there were classes designed for us, professors eager to help, and real-world opportunities to further our goals.  

SOC offers the perfect combination of learning, working, and networking. The people I have met – both faculty and students – have had a major impact on me and we will hopefully continue to work together for the rest of our careers. The classes themselves offered me not only the opportunity to learn and develop my own skills but also the chance to collaborate and learn from other students.

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

The one experience at SOC that will most help me and shape my career is taking the Master Class in Screenwriting with Gilles Wheeler. This class, taught by a professor actively working in the Hollywood film industry, focused on writing and rewriting a feature length screenplay and it has completely changed the way I think about both my writing and the entertainment industry. In the class we workshopped our writing as classmates, we received detailed, incredibly thoughtful feedback from the professor, and we learned about writing, rewriting, and how the Hollywood system works. Professor Wheeler demanded a lot from us – it is probably the class I did the most work for – but he made sure that everything we did was worth the effort. So many people talk about a career in screenwriting as a mystical, impossible dream, but in this class we learned specifically what it takes to have that career. I came out of the class with an award-winning screenplay, attention from Hollywood managers and producers, and a firm belief that I not only know what it takes to make it as a writer but also have what it takes.