I used to listen to Creed. Go ahead, judge me. I found their music extremely helpful when I was trying to get pumped up for soccer matches and baseball games. One song I particularly enjoyed was called “Are You Ready?”, which had some of the cheesiest lyrics I’d ever heard in my life. We’re not talking typical “I will love you until I can’t love you no more” kind of cheese. This was Grade A, certified, grab-life-by-the-horns-and-never-let-it-go cheese. Soak up this first line with me: “Hey Mr. Seeker, hold onto this advice: If you keep seeking you will find.” Or this part of the bridge: “Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one; Count down to the change in life that’s soon to come.” They repeat that line. You heard me, they count down from ten twice and nothing blows up afterwards or anything (talk about a lame MacGruber sketch). I always knew Creed was cheesy and that Scott Stapp was a little off the deep end, but their music served their purpose in making me ready for the competition I was about to endure.
Here I am the better part of a decade later writing copy for Ithaca College’s new “Ready” campaign. It’s the college’s biggest marketing push in recent memory, and it’s accompanied by a new vision for the future of the college in IC 20/20 and a new, sleeker brand identity and website. The problem is that I can’t get that damn song out of my head. It’s chorus taunts me constantly: “Are you ready?” I’ve interviewed alumni and current students all summer, digging for their “Ready” story. It was endlessly interesting to discover what made these people tick and how the Ithaca experience shaped them. But then we’d hit the final question, more of a fill in the blank really. “Thanks to Ithaca College, I feel ready to ________.”
It turns out the __________ isn’t as easy as it looks. In recordings of phone interviews there are prolonged silences. In on-camera interviews there are nervous smiles and stares off camera as answers are sorted and arranged. Everyone was afraid of being unable to capture their Ithaca experience in a few simple words. That period of speechlessness, be it seconds, or literal minutes in some cases, told me so much more about what Ithaca meant than the 15 minutes of interview beforehand. And in our subjects’ inability to answer I began to see my own.
Are students really in college to play a life-defining game of MadLibs? I don’t think it can ever be that simple, as evidenced by the stammering attempts to respond that have piled up in our interview transcripts. Life is simply too big for a permanent answer, and what we are prepared for can change by the day. But filling in that blank also helps us see where we want to be, have been or are now. It’s a motivator, a reminder of our dreams and a checklist of our accomplishments.
This afternoon I’ve been asked to impart some advice on the Park School of Communications Class of 2015 and I’m not entirely sure what to say. (Full disclosure: I’ve been asked to speak to younger students or prospective students a lot over the past two years and have pretty much perfected telling the story of how I got involved in radio by accident as a freshman before rising to be station manager my senior year. It’s a heartwarming tale of triumph in adversity, rising to exceed expectations and being all that you can be. And yes, the story did once involve a love interest. We’ll be leaving that part out from now on.) In a moment of weakness, I asked some friends to help lend some advice on Facebook. The answers were interesting and some were even a little insightful, which shouldn’t be surprising considering the insane amount of talent that leaves Park each year and heads out to conquer the world.
I also dug through some of my favorite quotes and landed in the lap of Mark Twain. (That’s what she said? No? Too inappropriate?) In May of 1907, Twain, or Clemens, whichever you fancy really, was featured in a piece in the New York Times. Between a tale about a bishop and another about the naval academy, he wrote a phrase that feels like a throwaway in text but remains rich on its own. “I like a good story well told,” he said. “That is why I am sometimes forced to tell them myself.” Every student in Ford Hall this afternoon will be at the start of a new story. Each story has a beginning in the hurricane-raddled weekend, but where it goes after that is unknown and up to those who tell it. When graduation comes a few years down the road, each student will have a completely different answer to fill in their blank. I just hope they have as hard a time filling it in as I do.