#22 – Guest Speak at My Alma Mater

I’ve been front and center on numerous stages. I’ve been on a sound stage in front of cameras for a few TV shows. I’ve been on stage telling jokes. I’ve been a journalist asking questions at news conferences. Simply put, when I’m in front of a crowd I don’t frighten easily.

About a month ago Dr. Liliana Rossmann, a professor at my alma mater California State University San Marcos asked me to be a participant in a career fair where alumni would speak about their careers to students.

I immediately said I would participate, because Dr. Rossmann was one of my favorite professors at CSUSM and any opportunity I have to give back to my University I jump at.

I wasn’t nervous about the event, because I’m quite narcissistic when it comes to my writing career. I love to write and I love talking about it. Plus, if my experiences can help others than that is a pretty cool feeling to get in return.

Clearly I’m not just narcissistic about my writing.

I received the list of other guest speakers a couple days prior to the event, and then my insecurities kicked in. Among my fellow alumni were a Master Data Manager with Bumble Bee Foods, an HR Benefits Administrator with Valley View Casino, a Director with Pacific Life Insurance, and a Senior Marketing Manager with Taylor Made-Adidas Golf. I’m a clown who can write.

Despite having a Bachelor’s in Communication and a Master’s in English I always fear that when put in a room of professionals that I’m not taken as serious because I write dick and poop jokes for a living. That’s probably a contributing factor to why I am looking into pursuing my PhD.

When I arrived at the Arts 240 room I noticed that my name placard was on the far left of the panel setup. I thought that meant I would get to speak first. I thought that would give me a better chance to be taken seriously since I wouldn’t be compared to a litany of 9-5ers.

Photo courtesy of Antoinette Oesterlein, who you may remember as the person who taught me the beginning chords to guitar playing. She took the time to come see me speak, which is cooler than anything I’ve ever done for her.

Alas, when the moderator began the introductions she started on the right side and moved her way toward me. To relieve my anxiety I surmised she wanted to save the best for last. In actuality, the placement of name cards was probably just random.

Damn straight I jacked my name placard.

Perhaps my anxiety was also attributed to the fact I felt the need to prove my education hasn’t been a waste and that I can better deliver a fart joke via multiple platforms because of my degree in Communication. The panel discussion went really well. I think I contributed some helpful information to graduating students. I told a few stories like my 4am phone call from Suge Knight, and running into LAX during a bomb threat for the LA Times.

I was definitely the outlier, and didn’t know if the students were fascinated with what I had to say. Most people who go to school there are not looking to get involved in show business. Or at least that’s what I thought.

After the panel was over, there was a five-minute intermission before the next panel on graduate school commenced. Before I could get out of my chair I was approached by another former professor, Dr. Katherine Brown, who was happy to see I had done so much in my five years since I graduated.

Then I stood up, and students mobbed me. First, a girl approached saying she was looking to get involved in sports broadcasting. We chatted for a minute about my time working on Around the Horn for ESPN and covering sports for the San Diego Union-Tribune. I gave her my card and told her if she ever needed anything then to contact me. Then a guy approached and said he was looking to become a writer and told me how cool my stories were. He saw me give the girl my card and asked me for one too. Then I was approached by an older woman who wanted to become a writer and was frightened she was starting out too late in life. I assured her that if you can write well, people don’t care about your age. I gave her a card. Then a guy who said he was looking to become an actor approached me. He told me he came specifically to hear me talk, because none of the other people could help him in what he wanted to do. With that compliment, clearly he was my favorite too. I gave him some advice and my card. As I was approaching the back of the room to take a seat for the second panel I was approached by two girls who said they wanted to get involved in the entertainment industry in some way, but didn’t know in what capacity. I could tell they were a bit nervous, which is funny because five years ago in college I would’ve been the one who was nervous to talk to them. They asked for my card as well.

Those brief conversations really made me feel good, because I don’t really think my stories are that cool, but occasionally I am reminded of rare opportunities I’ve had and how lucky I’ve been. Those students also relieved my anxiety about being taken seriously in a room full of professionals.

I genuinely want to help those students, because it reminds me of when I was 18 and approached a journalist guest speaker at CSUSM who got me my first writing gig with the San Diego Union-Tribune. I hope all of those students contact me, even if it’s just for more advice or to edit and revise their work. Realistically, I only expect maybe two of them to contact me, because it requires a certain level of gumption to follow up, which not everyone has. Either way, I wish everyone I met during the panel discussion the best of luck, because I know I’ve had plenty of it.

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