Comrades, Communications and Conclusions

Life has a way of scooping you up, throwing you into things and giving you experiences you never could have planned. As I near the end of my college career (yikes!), I’ve been reflecting on some of my most meaningful experiences. What I’ve realized is, the ones I value most are the ones that were mostly unexpected.

One of those unexpected experiences is coming to an end this month (a few weeks ahead of my graduation): my role as Brand & Identity lead on a youth-led national communications team for the Boy Scouts of America. This position gave me some incredible opportunities. I  shaped the brand for a 200,000-member organization. I fostered the skills of youth designers on my team. And I forged some seriously life-long friendships along the way.

I’ve written multiple times about my trials and triumphs in this role. Now that it’s coming to an end, it feels overwhelmingly bittersweet. I imagine this is a small taste of how I’ll feel on my graduation day later this month.

Today I signed off Slack, closed my eternal Trello tab and handed over the reigns. I closed a three-year chapter that shaped me in more ways than I can count. But I’ll try to pick out a few of the most memorable moments.

As a wee college freshman in 2013, I was recruited for a truly special project that thrust me into the world of brand design: help reimagine the brand of the Order of the Arrow and create the official brand guide to support it. I played a part in shaping the visual elements that would go on to represent our organization across the country.

During my winter break from college the next year, I found myself on another fateful phone call. This time, I was accepting my current role to lead branding efforts for our national communications team. I felt absolutely in awe of the trust that had be put in me. I felt humbled to be serving this organization in such a significant way.

As I went along, I remember filling pages and pages of my journal. I rambled about how I couldn’t believe just how lucky I was to be doing all of this. I marveled at the trust that others had put in me (looking at you, Alex and Michael). The more I wrote, the more I searched for a new vocabulary to express my deep gratitude for this experience.

I would always ramble to my parents, too, about my latest project or newest opportunity. Surely they didn’t grasp all the details of the admittedly complex team I had become a part of, but I gushed about it nonetheless. And slowly they realized just how passionate I was about this work.

The following spring, opportunity knocked once again, but this time the stakes were higher: design the brand for our organization’s centennial, national conference of 15,000 Boy Scouts. Awe doesn’t begin to describe how mind-boggling this was for me. You have to understand, just a few years before this, I was a member of my local unit with almost no conception of the regional, let alone national, aspects of this organization. Now its top leadership was entrusting me with one of the most important communications projects it had to offer. Needless to say, my ramblings on this one filled many, many journal pages and phone calls.

Nine months later, I walked onto the Michigan State University campus to find acres covered with the design and branding that defined the story of the Order of the Arrow’s centennial conference. My designs were on banners, signs, buses, buildings and even sowed on everyone’s uniform. In that surreal arrival moment, I saw countless hours of work come together to create a markedly design-influenced conference that I was inexplicably proud of.

As I look back now, it’s truly remarkable how much this experience has changed me. It thrust me into the world of conference calls and team management, sure. It taught me how to conceptualize, design and maintain a brand, absolutely. It made me a Slack and Trello aficionado, without question. It even afforded me a few professional opportunities. But it did so much more than that.

I know it sounds cliché, but the people I’ve met and the friendships I’ve made are by far the most valuable part of this experience . My communications comrades have been some of the most talented and inspiring people I’ve ever met. They pushed me to dream bigger and do better. They welcomed me into new worlds and showed me the way. These are friendships that span the country (and the globe – I connected with a fellow team member when I studied abroad in Venice), and I hope they’ll last for years to come.

What began as a vague interest in a communications team four years ago became one of the defining experiences of my life. I owe much of who I am as a person, leader, designer and friend to this organization and this team. And it was all totally unplanned and unexpected.

With a new phase of my life looming, I sincerely hope I’ll have the confidence to pursue big dreams, but not be afraid of uncertainty. I trust that life will have a way of throwing me into something special once again.

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