Family, friends and Elon faculty and staff gathered on May 17 with the 25 students in the Master of Arts in Interactive Media program's Class of 2018 to celebrate their completion of the program.
Drawing insights from a recent decision to change direction in his own life, Bill Kanarick on Thursday night advised members of the graduating class of Elon’s Master of Arts in Interactive Media program to embrace the difficult path and make deliberative and steadfast choices as they move through this latest transition in their lives.
“The blank sheet of paper is daunting to me, as I imagine it must be to you,” said Kanarick, an Elon parent who most recently was senior vice president and chief strategy officer at Publicis.Sapient, a global marketing and consulting company. “Getting a plane in the air — it’s like that stop sign moment. It takes choice. Once you’ve chosen, and understood the reasons why and the implications of that choice, it somehow gets easier.”
Ten months ago, this cohort of iMedia students made the choice to pursue a graduate degree in interactive media that will now propel them in different directions, toward different career goals and the start of different jobs. They arrived at an introductory boot camp from a variety of personal and professional backgrounds, and emerge with their degree with a toolbox of skills and a portfolio of work that will lead them in new directions.
Kaylin Skipwith, chosen by her classmates to deliver an address on their behalf, explained that this year’s graduates came to the program as gifted students and now leave as professionals, equipped with education and skills “to take us on to new heights” after commencement.
“We dove in headfirst into a plethora of editing software, coding and recording equipment,” Skipwith said. “The skills and knowledge we gained during the time here still amaze me.”
Victories, small at first and then much larger, were paired with many failures as well, she said. But the bonds they developed as a class and the support networks they each relied upon carried them through, she said.
“We began to understand that teamwork was key to changing communities,” Skipwith said. “The work and effort that has been put forth by the graduating class is truly worthy of recognition and applause. … You have what it takes. You are more than capable. You are blessed and highly favored, and look, you made it.”
In his remarks, Kanarick pointed to a recent transition in his own life — the decision to quit his job at Publicis.Sapient after 20 years. When he started with what was then Sapient, the company was working with clients to leverage the nascent power of the internet, and he worked to help expand it globally, rode through the burst of the first dot-com bubble and contributed to its success that led to its purchase for $3.7 billion by Publicis three years ago.
“All these years later, despite all I have accomplished and not accomplished, like you, I am just getting started,” Kanarick told the crowd gathered in Whitley Auditorium.
He talked about different milestones in his career, such as committing to growing the company after it was hit hard in the early 2000s with the team he was working with in Europe. “Someone said we have to choose. I can remember someone saying we have to decide. And then another corrected,” Kanarick said. “Deciding is passive. It takes compromise, which is only about the collective. Choosing is active. It starts with the individual. We chose, as individuals, and then as a team we do whatever it takes to win.”
Faced with choices, one shouldn’t always take the easiest path, Kanarick said, recounting a scene from the movie “A League of Their Own” in which the baseball manager Jimmy Dugan played by Tom Hanks notes that, “it’s the hard that makes it great.” He pointed to his own experiences with Sapient as it was reeling in the wake of the dot-com bust. The company’s stock price, which had plunged from $72 a share to 87 cents, had climbed back up to $1.50 a share after the team Kanarick was part of in Europe landed five top contracts that were essential to the company’s survival.
“I had lost a significant portion of my savings and my net worth,” Kanarick said. “And I was happier than I can ever remember being at any point in my professional life. Jimmy Dugan was right — it’s the hard that makes it great.'”
Each new graduate faces challenges as they head into their professional careers as iMedia graduates that can be “absolutely, unimaginably, gut-wrenchingly hard,” Kanarick said. But relying on themselves, being dedicated to the task at hand and “choosing wisely” will carry them forward, he said.
“Anything other than embracing the hard will just deprive you of great,” Kanarick said. “As we, both you and me, embark on and begin our lives, why not commit to great?”
Kanarick, along with his wife, Katie Kanarick P’19, were among the generous lead donors to the School of Communications expansion. The Kanarick Media Sandbox, located on the second floor of Dwight C. Schar Hall, encourages students to gather to innovate and embrace entrepreneurship.
In her charge to the graduating class, President Connie Ledoux Book offered her personal congratulations and asked them to remember one word from the university’s mission statement — freedom. “It’s such a powerful word that it instills a sense of excitement and fear at the same time,” Book said. “Excitement that we have the privilege of choice, and fear that we have the responsibility of choice.”
She encouraged them to use their knowledge and freedom as they move out into the world as Elon graduates. “You will face inevitable challenges in your personal and professional lives,” Book said. “I charge you to be resilient and steadfast, like the mighty oaks for which Elon is named.”
Candidates for the Master of Arts in Interactive Media Degree
Harry Joseph Caldwell III
Chandler Merritt Cates-Wessel
Nicholas Anthony Cook*
Sarah Elise Donahue*
Kyndall Shay DySard*
Jessica Renee Farmer
Tavarius Jamar Felton
Mara Nanichi Frontera Jimenez
Julian Case Gardner
Dexter O’Bryant Jenkins
Juwan Tyrik Johnson
Kelsey Erin Lane
Rhett Harlan Lawson
Lee Grant McPhatter III
James Joseph Miralia
Kendra Alexis Sharpe
Kaylin Danielle Skipwith
Arvanna Champagne Smart
Ashley Elizabeth Sugg
Gardy Sayee Swengbe
Tiffany Alexandra Taylor
Amanda Leigh Travis
Imoni Zenobia Tull
Jonathan Shane Wilkinson
Dominique Breanna Young
*denotes Phi Kappa Phi