Letters Home: Chris Spurlock

The following letter was submitted March 26, 2012

Dear students,
Chris Spurlock is an infographic design
editor for The Huffington Post. He graduated
from the Missouri School of Journalism
in 2011 with a degree in convergence

I want to talk to you about the big test you have coming up. It’s one you’ve agonized over for longer than necessary, and one you’ve probably procrastinated preparing for, too. I’m sure this sounds like every test you’ve ever had, but this one is different. This one is comprised of an infinite number of questions and will last much longer than 50 minutes. To be more specific:

The test will measure whether you are an informed, engaged, and productive citizen of the world, and it will take place in schools and bars and hospitals and dorm rooms and in places of worship. You will be tested on first dates, in job interviews, while watching football, and while scrolling through your Twitter feed. The test will judge your ability to think about things other than celebrity marriages, whether you’ll be easily persuaded by empty political rhetoric, and whether you’ll be able to place your life and your community in a broader context. The test will last your entire life, and it will be comprised of the millions of decisions that, when taken together, will make your life yours. And everything, everything, will be on it.

That brilliant bit of verbiage comes courtesy of John Green, a New York Times bestselling author, video blogger (of VlogBrothers and Crash Course fame) and hilariously insightful tweeter. While perhaps not the most high-brow quote you’ll ever come across, I think it really cuts to the heart of what your education is all about, and here’s the big takeaway: Your education is not a journalism education, it is life education.

If you attended Jen Reeves’ “Real World Lunch” this fall, you’ve heard me ramble on about this point before, but it is truly one I cannot stress enough. If you are spending all of your time agonizing over writing in AP style, avoiding jump cuts, operating a Marantz, learning how to code HTML, etc., you’re doing it wrong. (OK, maybe learning how to code HTML is pretty important. But the rest, not so much).

You are not in school to learn how to do journalism, you are in school to learn how to learn.

In reality, most of you will end up working in a field that has very little to do with what you studied in your four (or five or six) years in school. And for those of you who do end up doing exactly what it is you’re dreaming of doing, the truth is that your current journalism education will only get you so far.

If you think for one second you are done learning the minute you walk out of your last final exam, finish your last live shot, draft your last piece of copy or submit your last multimedia project, you’re sorely mistaken. In order to succeed in your career (and in all aspects of your life), you need to be able to adapt and grow.

And that is exactly what you should be taking away from your education.

If there is a skill you don’t have, there is no reason you can’t acquire it. If there’s something you want to make, there’s no reason you can’t build it. If there is a job you want, there’s no reason you can’t get it. With the education you are receiving right now, there are no excuses for be inadequate or unwilling. You know how to learn, which means you are capable of anything.

As much as they may try to hide it, your professors always have an ulterior motive. When Karen Mitchell lectures about the rule of thirds, when Stacey Woelfel critiques your camera placement in a live shot, when Scott Swafford picks apart the structure of your story about City Council, and when Stephanie Padgett makes you revamp the ad campaign you’ve been slaving away on, they’re not just teaching you to be better journalists. They’re teaching you to always strive for perfection, to be proud of the work you produce, and to be able to adapt and grow under pressure. These are lessons you will carry with you for the rest of your life, regardless of what career you pursue.

So, instead of stressing over what specific skills you have to put on your resume on graduation day, take solace in the fact that you are capable of anything as long as you are willing to learn. When you’re on the hunt for jobs, don’t just emphasize what you already know, present yourself as someone who can become what that organization is looking for.

Remember, life is a never-ending test, and as long as you keep studying every day, you’ll be prepared to answer every question on it.

Good luck!

Chris Spurlock
BJ '11 Convergence
Infographic design editor, The Huffington Post

Check out the rest of the Letters Home series

Editor's note: If you're a Mizzou journalism alum who would like to contribute to the Letters Home series, send us an email at onamizzou@gmail.com with your letter, your name, your sequence and graduation year, your current job and contact information.

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