Story by Jeff Collet
Photos by Gina Tran, courtesy of Next Generation Storytelling
Earlier this summer, after celebrating the most recent graduating class and after returning students packed up and went home for the summer, a new wave of students took over the SOJC for a week of collaboration, learning, and growth.
These 62 high schoolers had come from all over the county to participate in Next Generation Storytelling, an immersive residential program for the future leaders in journalism, media studies, public relations and advertising.
I had the privilege of being present for this experience as an embedded videographer. I did all the normal things like shooting b-roll, conducting interviews and staying up late logging and editing images — but most importantly, I got to observe.
As a master’s student based at the Portland campus, I am quite unfamiliar with and detached from the main campus experience. I visited Allen Hall during my orientation, and that’s about it. I didn’t fully understand the resources available; I was mostly unfamiliar with the faculty and I was totally unaware of all the goings on within the SOJC community in Eugene.
One thing I was well aware of based on my experience at the Portland campus was the SOJC’s extensive network of alumni and professional contacts. The students at Next Generation Storytelling got firsthand knowledge of this as well with an all-star cast of six featured speakers from every corner of professional communications you can think of: from a Hollywood screenwriter, to a government communications professional to a recent SOJC graduate and working journalist. The students also got to tour and attend classes in Allen Hall, and received presentations on the countless opportunities that would be available to them should they choose to attend the SOJC after high school. An amazing and accomplished team of undergraduate SOJC students and recent graduates counseled these high schoolers throughout the week, sharing their own experiences and best practices for success within the SOJC.
Each student was enrolled in two classes that they attended each day throughout the week. This served the dual purpose of giving the students a look into the instructional environment and demands of a college classroom, while also giving them real skills to apply to their own work and high school publications. These were streamlined versions of actual classes in the SOJC taught by the professors themselves.
I was blown away by the quality and depth of instruction that these professors were able to fit into a single week with these students. Passion for their craft and a sincere desire to see these students learn and grow emanated from every professor, and that energy was in turn radiated back by the students. Seeing this energy from the students really sealed the experience for me. Summer had just broken and here they were, in school. These young storytellers — whether or not any of them know exactly what they want to do or where they want to be five to ten years from now — knew that the answer wasn’t just sitting at home following the path laid for them. They had to go somewhere unfamiliar. They had to meet people they didn’t know. They had to reveal their vulnerabilities and put their presumed strengths to the test.
These students were challenged, and, at times, pushed out of their comfort zones. They were expected to have something to say, and to be open to learning how to say it more effectively. They had to find time to complete homework assignments within an extremely tight and inflexible schedule. Yet they all took to it willingly and with great enthusiasm.
Now, anyone who has sought to achieve a goal, struggled, and came out the other side successful — or if unsuccessful, smarter — knows these students simply did what it took to succeed. They understood that if you want to do your best, you need to do more. But not everyone gets that message early in life.
I am a late bloomer myself. It has taken me 30 years in this life to build the sort of momentum that makes me feel like I am actually moving in a perceivable direction. When I was in high school I challenged myself quite often, but most of the time I had a terrible habit of taking what came easy to me, or what was given. This bred uncertainty for me. I had dreams, but when they handed me my high school diploma, I had to admit to myself that I had done nothing to truly reach for those dreams. In part, it was that uncertainty that led me at age 18 to the recruiter’s office, hoping that six years in the active Army would allow me time and opportunity to figure things out.
When I joined the Army, one of the many pieces of unsolicited advice I received from some folks who had previously served, was to “Never volunteer for anything.” This is a strangely common refrain. I’m not sure where this nugget of supposed wisdom originally found its roots, but it certainly lacks merit. I guess the advice presupposes that anything asked of you by your military leadership will be meaningless drudgery — as if we had had something better to do!
That advice never sat well with me, and I enthusiastically ignored it. This mindset led me to a more meaningful and fulfilling experience than if I had accepted the sage wisdom of “non-volunteerism.” I learned that volunteering is one of the most liberating things an individual can do; it earns respect, it gives you more autonomy over the task than if it was assigned and it develops an ethic of ownership.
Ten years later, after leaving the Army, I quickly hit another roadblock. Feeling isolated and somewhat powerless over the direction of my career, I knew that I was at risk of squandering that sense of ownership I had developed in the Army. So, I gave myself something to take ownership over: I enrolled in the Multimedia Journalism Master’s program. I said “Yes!” to every opportunity I could, often taking on more than I could handle. So far it has paid off in ways I never imagined when I first applied to the program.
It was amazing to see these students at Next Generation Storytelling embracing that sense of ownership over their own careers so early in life. Even if they end up in careers wildly different from journalism and communications, they will learn something from the process. And that something will make them better decision makers when they encounter their next roadblock.
Don’t just take my word for it, try it out yourself. Shoulder more responsibility than you think you can handle and see where it takes you.
Jeff Collet is going into his second year as a graduate student in the SOJC’sPortland-based Multimedia Journalism Master’s program. He has been a content creator for the SOJC Communication Office in Portland since November 2017. Jeff studied visual communication design as an undergraduate at Western Oregon University. Prior to that, he served over nine years in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves as a combat photographer/videographer and multimedia illustrator. See more of his work at jeffcollet.com. Follow Jeff on Instagram @colletasyouseeit.