I won an award. More importantly, I gave a speech.

Last month, before I had a blog to write about it, I was honored by my alma mater, Minnesota State University Moorhead, with an Outstanding Young Alumni Award

See, look at it. Shiiiiny.

I was nominated for the award by the faculty of what was the Film Studies Department, back in my day, and what is now the School of Media Arts and Design. I am lucky to still be close with these wonderful people and they have been amazing mentors to me throughout my education and my career. So it was humbling to say the least.

I believe one of the reasons I was nominated was because I helped start a non-profit filmmaking community group called Persistence of Vision. You'll read plenty about that rad little organization in future posts. Basically, the organization was created as a means to create community and for starters to give us MSUM alumni a place to check in with each other and encourage each other to create and grow. Persistence of Vision has grown in ways I could not have guessed when we started it in Ben's apartment community room.

You may have already guessed that community is kind of a big deal to me, and you are right. I take that priority with me into my work as well. Video and film shoots rarely happen with just one person and we need each other to make these crazy things happen. I have learned so much about being a community member, a leader and even a person through my time making films and videos and being exposed to so many wonderful souls.

Cripes, I was going to try to keep this short...
I have many feelings about what I do and who I do it with. I guess we'll be unpacking those more and more.

Anyway, I was told I was going to have to give a speech. Sort of an acceptance, sort of a reflection on my time at MSUM and what it means to me; and because I've learned the importance of a mic and a willing audience, I wanted to lay down a message as well.

I had written a speech prior to the day, some of that material remained. When my former professors took me around the campus with Nick, my partner in life/crime, (he hadn't been there before) I noticed that not much had changed.
Now, because I keep in touch, I know the department has grown in student size. 
So, why in the hell don't they have more space and resources?
I was livid. 
Seeing other unnecessary expenditures throughout the campus, it was obvious there was money. So, I went back to my hotel room and rewrote my speech.

And here it is, for your reading pleasure:
(It's important to note that I haaaate public speaking and have horrible stage fright, but I managed to suck it up because THIS IS IMPORTANT.)

This is such an amazing honor, I don’t think I will ever be able to properly express how much this recognition means to me.
Honestly, I already feel like I have received so much from amazing faculty at MSUM that this is a little hard for me to compute.
*Before I dive in I need to say that since I’ve graduated from MSUM the film studies department has changed to become a part of the School of Media Arts and Design or SoMAD. You will have to forgive me as I continue to call it the Film Studies Department.

Anyway, when I transferred to MSUM I was pretty lost in a lot of ways.
I had very little direction as far as a career or even a passion to pursue. Of course, I knew that I liked certain things or had a knack for this or that, but none of that solidified into a path I could confidently follow.

To be completely honest, I came to the film studies department pretty much on a whim.
Easily one of the best whims, I have ever pursued.

What I found when even before I started classes was an outstanding, dedicated and passionate staff.
The chair of the department at the time, Rusty Casselton, was almost overwhelming for me at first; considering that until then I had experienced faculty that had little to no interest in their students or the education they were providing.
I quickly came to understand that this was the culture of the teaching staff for the film studies department.
They care.
A lot.
Like take you panicked phone calls in the middle of the night about a project
Or let you shoot a film project in their home AND provide delicious chili for the entire crew.
(in both meat and vegetarian versions)

These things. These crazy simple things… they taught me so much beyond even the professional or artist I wanted to me. They taught me about the person and leader I still work every day to be.

On top of this amazing support, the faculty worked to create a community and empower their students to find their creative voices.
For someone that had not really fit in, this community not only embraced me but allowed me to thrive as a person and an artist.



That sense of community and amazing leadership have been aspects that still influence me every day. Be it through my filmmaking community group, Persistence of Vision or the environment I try to create at work and during video shoots.

At MSUM we learned the importance of working with and leaning on each other for our work, and when Rusty Casselton passed away we learned the importance of community as we grieved such an immense loss.

Over the years the faculty and my fellow MSUM alumni have become my most valued mentors and dearest friends. Just like while I was in school, I know that they will be there for me.

With all of these experiences, I worked with a few fellow alumni to create what is now a fiscally sponsored nonprofit filmmaking community group over 5 years ago. That group, Persistence of Vision has expanded beyond just the MSUM alumni to active members with all sorts of different backgrounds.
The success of POV reinforces my strong belief in the necessity of community and empowering people to create and make art that was taught to me here, at MSUM.
These are things I think we need now more than ever. We need to give people the ability and confidence to find and use their voices to speak out against injustice, tell their unique stories and express themselves creatively instead of destructively.
And we should all be working toward this together.
So I leave you with this:
If you want to truly make the world a better place, a kinder place; support the arts. Support programs like the film studies program at MSUM who are actively making seismic changes in the lives of so many young people.

My experiences in the film department have been so influential and important to me and so many others.
Find a way to give them the support to further the impact of the great work this faculty continues to do.
— Amber Johnson, Human Doing