Emerson College

Commencement from Emerson College – What I Would Have Said

I was nominated to be the student speaker at today’s commencement for the graduate ceremony. While I was not selected (I attend a communications school – the competition was pretty stiff) I figured I could at least share what I wrote on my blog. Special thanks to Anna for nominating me and Chris, Max and Shaun for your thoughtful feedback. 

So, how did you end up at Emerson?

This was a question I feel I was asked fairly often when I first started my academic career here at Emerson College. The answers were simple: I wanted to better myself. I wanted to make more money. I wanted to be more competitive in the job market. I wanted the prestigious Emerson name on my résumé. You know, the basics.

I remember when I opened up my acceptance letter to Emerson (which by the way, said “Congratulations” right on the outside of the envelope – sort of a buzz kill).

I was standing outside of my apartment – a subsidized housing unit in San José, CA where I had been living while I served a second year in AmeriCorps with City Year. City Year is a national non-profit organization that was founded right here in Boston.  Our mission is to keep kids in school and on track by placing young, diverse leaders in urban schools to serve as tutors, mentors, and role models for at-risk students.

As someone who grew up in in a log cabin in the middle of the woods in upstate NY, a place where there were no lines on the roads and where you were more worried about crashing into a deer than into another car, I had been out of my element living in a huge urban city. But I had grown accustomed to living life outside of my comfort zone, and I was thrilled at the prospect of moving to Boston to attend the graduate school of my dreams.

But for those of you sitting before me today, you know that these dreams slowly but surely turned into a hard reality.

After two years out of college, I found myself in a classroom until late into the night at least two nights a week after having worked a full day in my current role as the Social Media Manager at City Year headquarters. My alarm still had to be set on the weekends, as I needed to wake up and complete a variety of assignments and study for exams.

Oftentimes I would lash out on Twitter and Facebook in complete disbelief over how my quality of life had deteriorated so quickly.

While I received a lot of likes from fellow classmates and friends across the country that were in the same predicament as I, one of my mentors posted a comment that forever changed my perspective. It was a link to a story about Malala Yousafazi, a fifteen-year-old girl living in Pakistan who had been shot by the Taliban because she wanted to have access to an education, but was denied that privilege because of her gender.

Here I was COMPLAINING that I was attending a world class college and had to sacrifice a few hours of my precious weekend to take care of some homework, while a world away a young girl was nearly killed simply because she believed that all children deserved to be educated, regardless of gender.

Malala is an inspiration to all of us. I have thought about her many times as I found myself looking at my iPhone to see how much longer until class would finally end, or as I forced myself to roll out of bed early on a Sunday morning to attend to my studies.

When I think about Malala, I also go back to the question: Why Emerson? Before any selection committee opened my application or read my letters of recommendation, I had to choose Emerson. All of us here had to make that choice – many of us, much like myself, without ever setting foot on campus.

I may not be able to explain what drew me to Emerson. A lot of it was they had a really great website, was located in an awesome city, and I knew an alum who had nothing but great things to say about it.

What I can tell you is that I found that many of my personal values are reflected in the culture and community of this College.

One of the best things about Emerson College is its commitment to diversity. In my first class at Emerson I literally felt like I was at a real life model UN. There were students from China, Pakistan, Bermuda, the Congo, Texas… the list goes on. Never in my life have I been exposed to so many different perspectives on life and communication challenges that I knew existed, but never had to experience firsthand.

My professors at Emerson held high expectations for us – and we were held to them. Every paper and project was treated like something that would become a tremendous asset to your portfolio. Every case study we reviewed in class was analyzed from all possible angles. We were pushed to think outside the box and with everything that we did, and this will stay with me through not only the entirety of my professional career, but in my personal relationships.

I also admire and appreciate President Lee Pelton’s vision for civic engagement with the announcement of the Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement in his inaugural address. As someone who spent two years of my life serving the community of San José, California, I was filled with pride to know that the spirit of service would now be an integral part of the Emerson community.

For those of you who travelled here for this ceremony and who have not been in Boston over the past six weeks, we have experienced trying times. Seven members of the Emerson College student body were injured in the Boston Marathon Bombings. I myself was cheering at the finish line a mere two hours before the blasts forever changed this city.

I can’t help but think of Richard Martin as I stand here speaking to you today. I can’t help but wonder if any of the children mercilessly slain in the Newtown shootings were destined to one day walk across this very stage or have the opportunity to address their fellow classmates by delivering their commencement speech.

Sadly, these are things the world will never know.

What I do know is that while that potential was lost on us, there are beacons of hope – and I truly believe that much of this hope is sitting right here in this room.

One of my most promising classmates is not here with us today because he went back to Pakistan to vote in an important election. Being guaranteed a (mostly) fair election is something that many of us take for granted. As is the simple act of logging into Facebook to post a photo of what we had for lunch, or going to the doctor when we have the sniffles, or making the important life decision to legally marry the person we love.

As we have experienced even just over the past two years that we have spent at Emerson College, we will be faced with insurmountable problems. But we are a lucky select few, for we are not only Boston Strong – we are Emerson Strong.

So, graduating class of 2013 – I leave you with the words of Malala Yousafzai:

“I don’t mind if I have to sit on the floor at school. All I want is education. And I am afraid of no one.”

As Emerson graduates, we are uniquely positioned to make a positive impact on the world.  We have the education – now let us move forward without fear and work towards building a better world.

Thank you.

The News we Want or the News we Need: How Personalization and Socialization Impacts Media Consmption

More and more news sites are allowing you to personalize the content you are presented with. Good.is – one of my favorite websites – is the most recent example of this. Similar to Twitter, I can follow the topics, people, and organizations that interest me. (Good.is differs in the sense that they are working towards collaboration and action rather than just consumption, but that’s a topic for another day).

In a blog post from Doug Pinkham, the President of the Public Affairs Council, he takes a look at this very issue and considers this selectivity and how it impacts media consumers and society as a whole.

Like Pinkham, at first I had the gut reaction that this is a terrible thing – that people are just going to filter out opposing views and avoid challenging the status quo. However, Pinkham brings up some interesting points that he found through doing some research:

1) People don’t have the patience to personalize their news content

This results in websites using algorithms to determine what content they think would interest you (a la Netflix).

2) Personalization is something news sites can charge for

I’m all about figuring out viable revenue streams for news sites – and if this is something that will keep news sites afloat (in turn protecting democracy), I’m game!

3) Social media can have an impact

Interesting statistic: “38 percent of social network users have discovered through friends’ postings that their political beliefs were not what they expected.”

News is becoming more and more social as people want to be the “first” to break news (even if it’s just among their friends). I can remember whose Tweet told me that Steve Jobs died (@BillKuchman in case you were wondering). And when I catch wind of something happening, Twitter is the first place I go to verify whether or not its true.

Organizations should certainly consider the media consumption preferences of stakeholders when making announcements – both the channel they frequent and the perspective they trust.

While I do think people should do their due dilligence to capture all sides of an issue, the fact is that not too many people are willing to take the time and effort to do that.

So, is personalized and socialized news a good or bad thing? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Chick-fil-A: The Nightmare Continues

When I found out I would need to write a blog post about public affairs each week for my Emerson College Public Affairs course, the Chick-fil-A debacle immediately came to mind as something I would write about. And not because of the gay marriage issue (which admittedly, I care very deeply about). I want to talk about it as a public affairs issue and a corporate identity issue – which has brought about several questions that I find truly fascinating as someone who communicates on behalf of an organization myself.

We all know what happened here – here are the recent developments I will be referring to:

Due to the issues related to Chick-fil-A giving money to WinShape Foundation and other anti-gay marriage organizations, the city of Chicago was not going to allow Chick-fil-A to build there. In reaction, Chick-fil-A’s senior director of real estate said in a letter to city Alderman Joe Moreno:

“The WinShape Foundations is now taking a much closer look at the organizations it considers helping, and in that process will remain true to its stated philosophy of not supporting organizations with political agendas.”

Many perceived this to mean that Chick-fil-A would stop donating money to anti-gay marriage organizations. However, on Sept. 18, Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy posted a Tweet from a fundraiser for the anti-LBGT group Marriage and Family Foundation:

This sparked outrage from people who viewed this to mean that the company was saying one thing, yet doing another thing entirely. On the flip side, the perceived promise to stop funding anti-gay marriage groups also angered their conservative consumers who stood by their side during the controversy.

In reaction, Chick-fil-A released a manifesto titled “Chick-fil-A: Who We Are” which outlined their corporate values and CSR activities.

For me, this raises a few key questions:

  • To what extent do the views of the CEO of a company impact the viewpoints of the organization in the eyes of its stakeholders?
  • Should there be consequences when a company misleads the public?
  • Is it the responsibility of the consumer to do their due diligence and research the CSR practices and values of a company, or should it be clearly spelled out by the organization?

Personally, I do believe that the views of the CEO cannot be separated from the views of the company that they lead – at least in the public sense. While I respect the right of the CEO and Chick-fil-A to have the point of view that they have (although as I mentioned above, I deeply disagree with the view in this case), they need to own up to it and embrace it. They need to be truthful and allow consumers to make an informed choice about where their money is going.

I’ve never been to a Chick-fil-A but I have talked to several friends who are from the South who explained to me that this is a true staple of southern food – and that they are actually deeply disappointed that they cannot morally enjoy one of their chicken sandwiches again (or at least until their CSR activities are shifted).

Should there be a consequence for them? Well, I definitely think they are getting a lot of unwarranted attention which clearly isn’t helpful for the company. I do believe it should go further than that. This has now become a case of business ethics that cannot be ignored. To be transparent, I don’t really have an opinion on what that consequence should or even could be – but I don’t think they should get out of this unscathed.

All of that being said, I also believe that it is the responsibility of the consumer to do their research. Writing this blog post was the first time I actually looked at different sides of the story. While I hate that Chick-fil-A supports anti-gay marriage groups, I discovered in my research that they do a lot of good for the communities they are in, especially in the fields of education and youth development – and that should not be ignored.

No matter your feelings on the issue of gay marriage, this is certainly a dynamic example of the power of public affairs.

What are your thoughts on the key questions? Do you have any other questions this has raised for you? Let me know in the comments…

Personal branding and social media as a career springboard

I recently had the opportunity to talk to the Emerson College PRSSA about my career and social media marketing for the non-profit sector. They wrote a really nice post about my visit, which you can check out here.

It was really interesting to talk to people outside of my organization about social media and personal branding and how it can truly be a career springboard. In light of the chat, I wanted to share some important things I have learned about personal branding over the past couple years.

According to Dan Schawbel, author of Me 2.0,

“Personal Branding is the process by which individuals differentiate themselves and stand out from a crowd by identifying and articulating their unique value proposition, whether professional or personal, and then leverage it across platforms with a consistent message and image to achieve a specific goal. In this way, individuals can enhance their recognition as experts in their field, establish a reputation and credibility, advance their careers, and build self-confidence.”

It is important to be purposeful with your social media use because oftentimes, it becomes your online portfolio and resume whether you want it to or not. Having a strong personal brand can work in your favor when it comes to the job hunt and networking within your field of interest.

Here are some common mistakes people make with their personal brand:

1) Posting inappropriate comments or photos. If you are friends with your grandmother or your boss on Facebook, do you really want them to see photos of your social life?

2) Being inconsistent. You can’t be everything to everyone – choose a field or topic that you want to focus on and try to stay there.

3) Negativity. No one will want to follow your updates if all you do is complain. It can be a major drag.

4) Inward focus. If all you do is talk about yourself, people will lose interest. Share content that you find interesting, but isn’t necessarily about you.

5) Not committing. Building a strong personal brand takes time and effort; if you are posting and engaging minimally, others won’t engage with you.

Now that you know some common mistakes, here are some easy tips to help you out:

1) Be yourself. You don’t use a fake name on Facebook, so why would you on Twitter? Keeping your name consistent will help people know who you are across different platforms.

2) Respect copyrights and fair use. If you share something that was created by someone else, cite the source. You would want others to do the same for something you created.

3) Be prepared to engage. A post is a conversation starter. Be prepared to talk about it.

4) Pause before you post. Is what you are about to say offensive or factually incorrect? Are there spelling or grammatical errors? Remember – once it’s out there, it’s out there and on social media, you are what you say or post.

5) Keep track of what you’re doing. Check out your @ replies, shares, comments, likes and Klout score. Being self-aware is extremely important and can net positive results.

Getting Oriented

All summer I’ve been trying to fight the fact that I’m terrified to be going to graduate school. It’s not that I’m concerned about being able to handle the challenge (though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little bit nervous about that) it’s that I’m concerned about whether or not its a good investment.

I’ve been reading article after article telling me that college debt has surpassed credit card debt in America and that tons of tons of students are walking across the stage to receive their Master’s diploma and then riding in their parent’s car back to their basement because they can’t afford to live on their own thanks to the mountains of debt they’ve accrued.

My independence is crucial to me and the thought of having to lose that makes me literally sick to my stomach. I’ve had countless sleepless nights where I’ve tossed and turned trying to grapple with how the hell am I going to live a life I want to lead all while managing loan payments, credit card bills, rent…. the list goes on.

To be honest, I seriously considered dropping out of graduate school before it began. 

I was feeling guilty because a Master’s degree is something that isn’t absolutely crucial to finding success in my career field. You could say I don’t even need it. It is just something I’ve always wanted to do for my own personal development. That, and I really do enjoy learning.

After going to orientation at Emerson last week, I’m feeling better about my decision. President Pelton addressed the graduate students and I really connected with what he had to say. Not only did he make me feel a little better about job prospects with my degree, but he made me feel inspired to really give this my all.

It’s going to be difficult (both intellectually and financially) but I’m going to make it work.

Thanks for everything, @Michael_Messina

Sometimes you meet a person who makes a difference in your life. They teach you a valuable lesson, show you a new way of thinking or simply are there for you when you need them most.

Even more rare is when you meet someone who completely changes the trajectory of your life’s path. Someone who shows you what you are capable of and does everything that they can to ensure that you fulfill your life’s mission.

@Michael_Messina is one of those people for me.

I originally “met” Mike via Twitter when I was a first year corps member serving with @CityYearSanJose (a Twitter handle that didn’t exist until he prodded the leadership at my site to give @RomelAntoine and I the go ahead).

He continued to loop me in on @CityYear social media, both locally in San Jose and at the national level for the next two years, giving me opportunities that wouldn’t have been possible if he hadn’t both trusted and believed in me.

When I started communicating with Mike, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I knew that I wanted to be involved in the non-profit sector in some way, but I had no idea at what capacity.

Thankfully, I had a pioneer of social media as a mentor at my disposal.

Photo by Elliot Haney

Mike is probably one of the only people I know who is as humble (if not more so) than Charlie Rose, Dean of City Year. And if you know Charlie, you know that’s pretty darn modest. So since I know he won’t toot his own horn, I’m going to take it upon myself to do it for him.

Thanks to Mike’s leadership, social media has become a powerful force in how City Year operates. It is a major way that we connect with applicants, current corps members, corporate sponsors, alums and many more. The forums he has created have given a voice to corps members, illuminating the powerful service that so many young Americans provide to some of our nation’s most neediest children.

What some people once saw as “just Twitter” are now recognizing to be a necessity in decreasing the high school drop out rate, which if you don’t know the severity of that issue, here is a staggering statistic:

Every 26 seconds, a student gives up on school in America

I think it would be difficult, maybe even impossible, to count the seconds, hours, and days that Mike has spent mobilizing our organization via Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, Tumblr, Flickr and Youtube to help us work towards achieving our mission of fighting this very statistic.

Mike has said a lot recently that his brand will always be connected to City Year. Well, I truly believe that City Year is incredibly lucky to be able to say the same exact thing about him.

As I sit at the helm of the social media community that Mike has created, I can only hope to represent City Year with the poise, authenticity and power that he did.

I know what it feels like to pass something I have worked hard on to someone else, and he has never once made me feel that I am incapable of taking this on.

Sometimes I feel like he has more confidence in me than I have in myself. 

So as I spend this summer working at my dream job and gear up to attend my top choice graduate school this fall, I will do my best to make him proud and hope that one day I can pay this forward.

Now, he’ll probably give me a little grief for making this post too wordy and not having enough multimedia included, but he can’t say that I didn’t say that this post is mine alone and is not representative of City Year or AmeriCorps as organizations.

While this opinion may not be officially representative of the organization, I’m sure I could find a heck of a lot of people within it who would say that Mike taught them something and changed the way that they viewed and used social media, among other things.

So, thanks for everything Mike. Best of luck in everything that you do. And thanks for everything that you have done for me.

Life Update

Pardon the huge lag in posting I’ve done lately. I’ve been incredibly busy and I think this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to actually sit down and breathe in a couple weeks.

Here’s what I’ve been up to:

City Year Graduation

On Wednesday, June 15th I graduated from City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley after two years of service. Graduating this time around felt, well, different. Last year I knew that I would be coming back for a senior corps year but this time it was actually over. But I don’t feel sad about leaving San Jose. While there is a lot I am going to miss, I had an absolutely amazing experience and have taken away so much from my time there.

As Dr. Suess said, “Don’t cry because its over, smile because it happened.” I truly believe that whole heartedly.

Lake Tahoe

After working incredibly hard for 11 months, its only natural to want to celebrate that. And celebrate we did. With the help of my friend Jane, I planned a 3 day vacation in Lake Tahoe for around 40-45 people. We rented a gorgeous eight bedroom house and had a really amazing time.

It was really nice to spend time getting to know people that I hadn’t had the chance to over the year. And of course, Lake Tahoe is absolutely gorgeous, so you can’t go wrong with that.

Train Trip

A few friends and I decided that instead of flying off to our separate destinations, we would stay in vacation mode by taking a train from San Jose, CA all the way to Rochester, NY. It was 72 hours of traveling which may sound daunting, but it was actually a heck of a lot of fun.

We had sleeper cars from LA to Chicago which was great because it was quiet, all of our meals were provided and we had access to showers.

We went from San Jose to Santa Barbara to LA to Chicago and then finally to Rochester. In Chicago we had a six hour layover so we toured around Chicago and even had the chance to stop by the City Year office where the wonderful Johnny Barr gave us a tour and told us more about the service that the Chicago site provides for the schools.

While the ride from Chicago to Rochester was a living nightmare, I would definitely recommend taking the trip for anyone who is even slightly interested. Just be sure to get a sleeper car!

Bakerfest/Home

For the past three years, I’ve had a going away/welcome home party called Bakerfest. Its always a really great time for me because I have friends from all over the place come together.

And despite getting iced… twice… it was a great time.

I also got to do some fun stuff with Nick, Dan and Deborah while we were here. We went to Hamlin Beach, grilled out and played bocce at my friend Lauren’s house and went up to Niagara Falls to ride the Maid of the Mist. I’m so glad that they were able to come stay with me for the long weekend and tour around upstate NY. It made life here seem more exciting somehow, and gave me an excuse to be touristy.

Next Steps

As most of you know, I’m moving to Boston today. I’m really excited to start this next chapter in my life. This past week I was formally offered a temporary position at City Year, Inc. as an Online Community Coordinator. I’ve invested a lot of time and energy into social media at City Year both at the local and national level and am incredibly excited to be welcomed onto the team at a full-time capacity for the summer. I start work on Tuesday. Wish me luck!

In September I will be beginning a Master’s program at Emerson College where I will be majoring in Communications Management with a focus on Stakeholder Communication and Public Relations. I’m really thrilled to be back in the academic environment and know that having this educational development will only further my career.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout all of this. My friends in San Jose, my mentors in the City Year network (especially Mike Messina, Kim Brown and Megan O’Leary) and everyone at home who makes it harder and harder for me to move away.

Here’s to the next adventure.