Five Grady College graduates named to the UGA Alumni Association’s 40 Under 40 class attended the “A Message to my Younger Self” panel on Friday, Sept. 9, offering insight to current students about their paths to success.
Emily Curl (ABJ ’14), Lauren Culbertson Grieco (ABJ ’09), Chad Mumm (ABJ ’08), Kevin Schatell (ABJ ’16) and Michael Waldron (ABJ ’10) attended. Christie Johnson (ABJ ’07) was not able to attend the panel.
Dean Davis welcomed the alumni and students, saying the honorees exhibit “the leadership of this college and the careers that people launch from this college.”
Darby Taylor, a fourth year entertainment and media studies student and Grady Ambassador, moderated. The following are highlights of questions from Taylor and attending students, along with select responses from honorees.
What is one piece of advice you would tell your younger self about breaking into various areas of the industry?
Mumm: “Don’t be afraid to just go out and do it. Pick up a camera or write a screenplay. Use your early part of your career to make those mistakes. I think my biggest mistake probably was I felt like I had to do it all myself. When I moved to New York, I wanted to do it all on my own and I didn’t ask for help, but I wish I would have.”
Grieco: “I completely agree with asking for help. If you want to work in the field of politics, the beginnings can be pretty brutal, but they’re totally fun and worth it. I worked on a campaign, but another option would be to get an internship or entry-level role on Capitol Hill.”
Curl: “I think what I would tell myself looking back is just take your time and don’t worry so much. I think it takes a long time to find your voice and to find out what you want to say and what you want to put out into the world.”
Schatell: “One of the best pieces of advice I got working in my first job was ‘You have nothing to prove, only to share.’ This has stuck with me, and it reminds me that your worth is not in what other people think of you, you just have skills and experiences to share. Something else I wish I would have developed early on is the art of asking good questions. As a producer, it’s all about asking the right questions and being genuinely curious.”
Waldron: “When working on projects, it’s easy to have a creative idea. But, to actually start something and to see it all the way through is where the brilliance in any creative work comes from. I think the earlier in your careers, if you can learn the value of just finishing things, that’s hugely important. The other thing is to know what you want to do and tell people that. Even when I was changing toilet seats, I made sure that everybody at ‘Rick and Morty’ knew I wanted to be a writer. Don’t be afraid to call your shots.”
All of you made a big geographic move after graduation. What tips do you have for students who want to move to big cities such as New York or L.A. after graduating?
Waldron: “Spending time here in Athens is amazing, but by moving away, you will grow as a person in ways you simply can’t imagine. Just getting out to another part of the country and other parts of the world is the best thing you can do.”
Grieco: “You will grow so much by getting different experiences. Travel has been one of those things I’ve done in my personal life that has made such an impact on my professional life. It really not only changes your perspective, but it also helps you reflect on who you are as a person and what you value. It gives you a completely a new new lens on life and the work that you do.”
What is the best way to reach out to alumni and build a connection with them?
Mumm: “With Dean Davis and all that the college has done, they’ve created so many opportunities here such as the mentorship program and Grady LA. When it comes to making connections, just ask for that intro. I get a lot of emails and introductions, and sometimes I miss it the first time around. Don’t hesitate to follow up. If someone is nice enough to connect you to someone else and they don’t respond right away, don’t be afraid to send a follow up note checking back in.”
Grieco: “Ask your professors. I’ve met so many people through Karen Russell and the dean.”
Waldron: “Never feel bad about following up again…I think anyone who went to Georgia, and especially those who are working in similar industries as us would be more than happy to talk to students.”
When you first started, what was your first major setback and how did you overcome it?
Schatell: “Moving to New York, although was the fulfillment of a dream of mine, was also pretty difficult. There was a season, especially toward the beginning, when I was slammed with anxiety. I’m not talking about the butterflies in your stomach because you’re excited kind of anxiety, but actual anxiety. I had to navigate learning to understand what was happening to my body when I had a panic attack, what was triggering it, and getting the help to fix that.”
Curl: “To quote my queen Kacey Musgraves, ‘You can’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but why would you want to be?’ I like that quote because when you’re in a public facing job, there’s always going to be someone who doesn’t get it – but there’s going to be someone who does, and there’s an audience for everyone. Keep perfecting your craft. People are going to tell you no, but you have to believe in yourself.”
Waldron: “I wrote a spec episode for the show ‘Workaholics’, which I thought was super funny. It turns out that someone I knew happened to know the editor for the show, and I asked them to pass along my script to them. I then anxiously awaited the life-changing call saying ‘This the best script we’ve ever read, we’d like to bring you on, etc.’ But, I got an email back about two weeks later that was so scathing. I think the first sentence was ‘I don’t even know what to say,’ and it just got more punishing from there. The truth is, in any creative work, you fail 99 times a day, but you just got to get it right once. One good idea makes for a successful day. That was my first brush with serious rejection, and then I realized that it doesn’t kill you, it doesn’t really have any reflection on who you are as a person. Then you get up and you write a better script that isn’t a spec of ‘Workaholics’ and keep going.”
Mumm: “When I first moved to New York, it was at the height of the financial crisis. I was frustrated that I couldn’t get a job immediately. I was thinking that I would just walk into the city and immediately be on the 51st floor at NBCU. I remember walking around with resumes that I printed out bought very expensive paper for (because I thought that was going to matter), and I was going to HBO offices and NBCU, handing the security guards my resume. That didn’t work out of course, so I ended up taking a job for a commercial director who needed someone to change the toilets and clean the place…I get asked a lot by students what my goals are, and I honestly don’t have goals, I just have a direction. I just think, ‘Am I going north still?’ To me, that means pick your direction and stay at it. I think that kind of perseverance will take you super far. You just have to keep grinding and sticking with the things you believe in, and great things will happen.”
What was a moment in your career where you felt that you had “made it’?
Schatell: “For me, it was Dec. 8 of 2017. It was the day I arrived at work and Ed Sheeran was there, but so was Zac Efron. That was truly a milestone for me. I emcee the experience on our plaza every day, and every single one of the hundreds of people in that crowd knew how excited I was to meet that guy. It was one of those major ‘pinch me’ moments in my career. Whatever the ultimate dream is, it will happen, and your Dec. 8 of 2017 will come too.”
Grieco: “My ‘We’re not in Kansas anymore’ moment was when I staffed a meeting at the White House between our former CEO Jack Dorsey and former president Trump. I just sat there and I was like, ‘This is the most surreal moment of my life. How did Lauren from Marietta, Georgia, get here?'”
Mumm: “I don’t honestly have a moment that I could pinpoint as ‘the thing’. I like to use a stair analogy a lot. Sometimes you’re on the stairs, sometimes you’re on a landing, and you’ve just got to find more stairs. I like to think about it as one foot after the other.”
Curl: My ultimate dream was to work for E! News. I ended up auditioning for them and made it to the final rounds until I got a call from them saying they were going to go in a different direction. That was crushing, but looking back, I’m so glad I am where I am now and it all worked out. When I got the call from iHeartRadio, I got full body chills and started screaming. Something about that moment solidified it for me, where it was like, ‘Okay, I’m officially a host. I don’t have to pretend that this is a dream anymore. I’m actually doing it.’ All that is to say keep your options open – obviously have those goals and those dreams – but it’s okay to allow yourself the space that if those goals and dreams change, that’s going to be for the best for you too.
Thank you to our alumni for taking the time to offer students advice.
Editor’s Note: Please visit the Grady College YouTube page to view a video of the entire 40 under 40 panel discussion. Please visit the UGAGrady Flickr page to view pictures of the 40 under 40 panel.