A lot starts at the end

I catch myself thinking: “if it had happened 10 years earlier how would I have reacted?” 

In 2010, I was a high school senior who, like everyone else in my class, had a lot of decisions to make. The first decision influenced the next, and so on. Knowing what you wanted to study would influence where you would go to college, et cetera. As one chapter of life comes to an end, we think a great deal about how we want to start the next. To quote the bumbling Kevin Malone from NBC’s The Office, “It’s only human natural.”

By February, I knew that I wanted to pursue broadcasting and was accepted into Kent State University, though I was not sure which aspect of the field would be right for me. The next decision I had to make was where I wanted to spend my “senior project,” essentially a four-week internship during the final month of school at a business in your intended field. In Cleveland, there are only a handful of places that fit that bill, and finding a place that would let you hang out was harder than finding a girl on ChatRoulette, tending your farm on FarmVille, or getting that Numa Numa song unstuck from your head.

As fate would have it, I knew that the mom of a friend worked at WKYC Channel 3, the local NBC station. I asked him if he could ask his mom if they wouldn’t mind some 17-year-old hanging out with them in May. Now, I’ve recounted this story dozens of times and at the risk of sounding too dramatic I can honestly say that this one action I took in February 2010 steered me into the career and developed the talents I have today. Not long after, I received an email from a woman named Micki Byrnes, who headed-up Channel 3’s marketing department at the time. She invited me to visit the station and chat and, upon doing that, said she’d be happy to have me shadow her department for a week, in addition to a week with SportsTime Ohio, the cable sports channel run out of WKYC’s building at that time. Those in broadcasting know the month of May is a “sweeps” (a major ratings) month and is typically a very busy time at TV stations. For that reason, Micki suggested I split my senior project and spend two weeks with the marketing team at the Cleveland Indians, which she arranged. I began my first week at Channel 3 on May 3, 2010, exactly 10 years to the day that I am writing this.

The lengths Micki went to for a random high school senior, albeit a friend of her son’s, was an incredibly generous gesture that was not lost on me. It also drove home the importance of trying to make a connection. I returned three years later as a summer intern with Channel 3’s marketing department and, one year after that, interviewed for and accepted a job with the station. And that, my friends, is the power of networking and hard work.

Obviously, May 2020 looks a little different than May 2010. Hey, I look different (the picture accompanying this post is me -10 years, +30 pound and running on 98% anxiety, but I got better).

If a form of COVID-19 cropped up ten years earlier, or the H1N1 Swine Flu of 2009 could not have been controlled, my senior experience would have likely been wiped-out. It goes without saying that I’m not alone in that; my peers would be without experiences that helped pave their pathway into the professional world. That’s where the scary, selfish thought pops into my head: “How would that have changed my life?” But more importantly: how is this impacting the paths of the Class of 2020? Will someone else miss out on a life-defining opportunity like this?

I was recently on a Zoom call with other alumni from my high school, in which the Head of School explained the transition to distance learning. The pandemic struck at a time when technology allows us to telecommute (e.g., work from home) without much hassle. It certainly allowed me to do my job remotely. I’m pleased to see stories of how video conferencing allows today’s high school seniors to participate in a variation of that senior experience and having opportunities to chat “face-to-face” with professionals in their field of interest. Networking can take unconventional forms.

I have no doubt the high school seniors in the Class of 2020 will overcome the challenges brought forth by the disruption to their spring semester. Those students firm in their interests and intended career paths still have plenty of opportunity to discover what they like doing and with whom to network. As for college seniors, they’re about to enter a world that’s been turned on its head. Doesn’t mean there isn’t hope, though! 

I was recently asked to record a video message to students at my college. Here’s an excerpt of my message to them:

Yes, this is a crazy time to graduate and look for a job. The whole communications industry — broadcasting, print, PR and the like — was turned on its head literally overnight. But much like us currently working, you too will rise to the occasion. Really, the fundamentals are the same: network. Innovate. Differentiate yourself, and you will succeed. 

Do I think my experience finishing high school and entering college would be drastically different if some sort of global disruption happened ten years ago? Undoubtedly. Do I think it would have drastically rewritten my professional career? There’s no saying for sure, but I don’t think too much would have changed. I think I would have found my way to where I am now. Or, perhaps, discovered another path and have been just as happy. That’s the crazy thing about the Butterfly Effect. I do not think I would be worse off, nor do I think today’s high school and college seniors will be worse off.

As one chapter closes, another begins. A lot starts at the end.