Good morning everyone. I am so happy you've all come to join us in this celebration of a monumental achievement in our lives. I think I speak for all of us when I say that at times we loved graduate school, and at times we cursed it, but we all were changed for the better.
In writing this speech I thought back to my first day of graduate school in the film program at AU. I was terrified. I was afraid for many reasons, but one reason was that I was worried I wouldn't fit in because I wasn't your typical student.
Let me explain that a bit. On my first day I was 9 months pregnant, and one day. Not that I was counting down or anything. Certainly not your typical student, but that's the wonderful thing about the School of Communication at American University, there is no such thing as a “typical” student. Students come from every part of the US and every part of the world. They speak dozens of languages and have had innumerable life experiences.
American University brings together people who think they have nothing in common, am I right? Graduates if you'll look around you'll likely find someone who when you first met you thought you were very different from.
In my first class at AU, Writing for Visual Media, I sat by a 40-year-old former lawyer, a Chinese filmmaker with an established career in China and a Colombian bongo player. That's just to name a few.
AU brought us together to create something crucial and something our world needs more of: Community. We learned to work together through challenging projects and to accept, and I venture to say even appreciate, our differences. That Chinese filmmaker, lawyer and bongo player became some of my closest friends and we've continued to work together professionally as well.
That sense of the importance of community carries over into the work we make.
I had the opportunity to work assisting with outreach for Professor Brigid Maher's documentary about women leaders in Islam. This required reaching out to a world I knew little about, but thanks to the experience I learned more about what we all have in common.
I also had the chance through AU to work on a documentary about immigration in the US for the PBS show Frontline through a partnership with the Investigative Reporting Workshop. Working with the producers on that film I learned a great deal about empathy, trust with subjects and the ability of media to call to account the most powerful people on behalf of those with the least power.
I have had some incredible mentors at AU and I know you have too. These are people who truly believe that we can make a difference in helping build strong communities through our work and actions.
So I had the baby, a little boy, and I'm not going to lie, it was a struggle, but thanks to the community at AU I am here today.
Community. I think if we look out into our world right now there is a lot of fear and a lack of community to help bring us together. This manifests itself in many ways, and all of them harmful. Bigotry, violence, distrust, exploitation to name a few.
As graduates of AU and the School of Communication, we understand the importance of community now and our role is to bring what we've learned here into the workplace and the world.
After I presented my thesis in December, I asked the faculty in the crowd “Is that it, do I just say goodbye?” Professor Maggie Stogner responded “There is no such thing here. You can never say goodbye”
Since there are no goodbyes here, I'll just say thank you for being a part of this moment.
Let's continue to build our community beyond these walls. I know from each of you there are great things to come.
What have you gained from your time in SOC?
The main thing I would say that I gained from my time in SOC is this: We can't do it alone. Before coming to AU I had worked as a freelance journalist. For logistical reasons I largely worked alone and when I came to AU I had to get over that mentality. This happened through professors who helped develop a positive environment that nurtured a sense of community and teamwork and it happened through my fellow students who taught me that although teamwork requires sacrifice, the results are well worth it.
In filmmaking, as in all effective communications, we need teammates. We need diversity of voices and diversity of ideas. This was a point that I really wanted to make in my commencement address because I feel that it is a strength of AU and the School of Communication. When I meet professionals throughout D.C., the tell me that they love AU grads because AU grads know how to work well with others and bring out the best in those around them. The importance of this can't be underestimated, and for me it was life changing.
What is the one experience you've had at AU/SOC that you feel will best prepare you for your future career/education/life?
This is such a difficult question because there are so many people and so many experiences that prepared me for life beyond AU.
For me it was really the mentoring that I got in SOC. Those one-on-one consultations with professors - the hours I spent over the past several years in film program director John Douglass' office questioning what I should do with my future and what career I wanted. The times that professors listened as I talked about wanting to quit, and the times they encouraged me to go further than I thought I could go. Professor Brigid Maher who never accepted mediocre work and always pushed me to be braver and stronger than I thought I was. Pat Aufderheide who talked with me before and after class to help me define my goals and what I wanted from a career. Other professors who met with me even when I wasn't their student to help me find my way. This individual mentoring really helped me define my path. As I begin work as a professor myself, and in my work as a filmmaker, I hope I can be a mentor for others as SOC professors have been for me. I consider it the greatest calling I can aspire to.