I’m going to tell you a story. I’ve told it before. And it’s not life changing to anyone else but me. But it is important. It is how I developed compassion and humility. It is how I became me.

The Moment That Made The Millennial | Part 1

I’m going to tell you a story. I’ve told it before. And it’s not life changing to anyone else but me. It’s how I became the me that I call myself today. The one I refer to that will do anything for something she believes in. The one that timidly shares her problems of anxiety with a group of friends she first met over the internet. The one that’s always churning in the background, regardless of what me is showing at the front. It’s the me that makes my eyes tear up to think about.


Fall of 2011 I moved into a dorm on the beautiful campus of Virginia Tech. I had gotten credit already for most required core classes, but I still needed something for Area 7: Critical Issues in Global Context. I signed up for a class called World Regions. Now, history and social studies have never been my strong point. How am I supposed to remember the leader of every major country in the world if I can’t even remember what I ate for dinner last night, and I forget the word “strainer” when trying to tell my mom what I need from the cupboard?


True story, I actually forgot that word tonight just a couple hours before I wrote this.


But I signed up for the course because I heard it was easy, had 3,000 students in it, and the professor was a baffling mix of humor and offensiveness that drove around in plaid Scion xB. This is the girl I was. Normal. I had my own problems and quirks like anyone else. I was introverted, quiet, a little nerdy, and took art classes outside of school. Even on the weekends. But I had a normal middle and high school experience.


Life changed me towards the beginning of the end of my first semester in college. It was a movie. (If that’s not of sign of the millennial age, I don’t know what is). Professor Boyer of that very World Regions class convinced me (and probably at least 1,000 more of us) with extra points to come see a screening of a movie. He did this thing where he showed screenings of movies about other cultures and countries for extra points in the class if we attended, probably in an efforts to try and “globalize us” or something. Funny I’d be looking back at that four years later, teary-eyed and eternally grateful that he ruined my life in the best way possible. And to think I almost didn’t go.


IC Screening with Jason Russell | "The Moment That Made Me | Part 1" | by South Ranch Creative | www.southranchcreative.beccagrogan.com


The film shown that night was called “Tony,” and it was shown by a group of weird looking things… err I mean, people… called “roadies” that drove all the way from California (one from Uganda) for a nonprofit called Invisible Children. Invisible Children is a millennial generation nonprofit that exists to stop a rebel group in central Africa called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and their leader, Joseph Kony, from committing terrible atrocities and human rights abuses, which they have been doing now for over 20 years.


Please watch. If you’ve seen it before, watch. If you’ve never even heard of Invisible Children or Joseph Kony before, please. Watch. I can’t promise it won’t ruin you. And I can’t promise you’ll care. But I did and I did with such a fury and a passion that I can’t not use every opportunity I have to try and convince others to do the same.




After the movie, there was a presentation about what Invisible Children was and a discussion with a young Ugandan who had been directly affected by the conflict. I can’t say I remember the words they said. I can’t remember the ones that struck my heart with such force, I was shaken and lost of strength. But I remember standing back up. It’s funny, actually. That I just kept standing up. Tears in my eyes, gripping the seat in front of me for balance, I just kept standing up in the middle of the room, while the roadies were still presenting. Good thing I was in the back, because I’m sure people were staring at me. The film, the talk, the staggering realization that this was going on in today’s world, that people weren’t stopping them, that people my age and younger were facing the worst human rights abuses imaginable was just more than my mind could bear. It’s like my body knew that I needed to do something that instance to help the cause, but my mind, in its utter astonishment, just hadn’t caught up yet.


Once the presentation ended, and I figured out how to move my legs again, I started to act. I immediately joined the Frontline, a campaign to raise $2 million in four months for Invisible Children’s Protection Plan. I organized a team in my dorm to raise even though there were only a couple of weeks of the tour left. I was a leader for the first time in my life, it was terrifying and humbling and exhausting. But I did because I wanted to, I needed to. Me, the definition of “that quiet art kid”, wanted to be a leader so that I could share a story that was bigger and more important than myself.  That sort of feeling only comes around a few times in a lifetime.


Young millennial repping the new IC@VT shirt | "The Moment That Made Me | Part 1" | by South Ranch Creative | www.southranchcreative.beccagrogan.com


This was only the beginning. It was a seed and a spark. A moment. I happened to be there and it changed me forever. But this was only the beginning.


Stay tuned for The Moment That Made Me: Part 2 to see how this spark brought me to life. In the meantime, I’ll be back there reliving all my best and hardest and most inspiring memories since then and trying to pretend I’m not crying at something ridiculous.


Keep taking action and stay true to yourself.


For me it means a lot of doing everything I love: working for nonprofits, selling my arts and crafts and design, and working with a lot of good friends. Unfortunately it also means a lot of selling myself short of what I deserve.

What it’s really like graduating from college with a degree in “Art.”


As a recent graduate from Virginia Tech with a degree in Art, concentration Visual Communication Design, I feel compelled to let the world know what it’s actually like graduating from college with an art degree in the year 2015.


Starving Artist.


If you’re a creative like me, or are close with one, I’m sure you’ve heard it all. You may have even caught yourself saying it. Does the phrase, “starving artist” sound familiar? Have you been asked what you actually do or what you’re going to do when you graduate? Oh wait, they already know that. You just make things pretty. Have you cringed at overhearing a marketing student declare they plan to learn Illustrator and web design in ONE day? Have you been asked to design a logo for…. $20?


One day, standing on the stage as an outstanding senior at your own graduation, the next, jobless and living back at home, wondering, "what did I do wrong?"


As College of Architecture and Urban Studies’ 2015 Outstanding Senior, I was asked to sit on the stage at my own graduation.


Through my own personal experiences, I still find that art and design is still a hugely undervalued profession. Because I have been asked to design a logo for $20. And if it’s not undervalued, then the time it takes to complete the desired project is severely underestimated. The thing about good design is that when it’s really, truly successful, it’s almost silent.


“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


The Macchiato Effect.


And when it’s silent, people don’t realize that their emotions, their immediate reaction to the content that is being served to them, is a result of the design of the content, not just the content itself. So they will pay an extra $2 for that magnificent looking spiced caramel macchiato, but gawk at the freelance designer that wants to charge them $1000 for a new logo for their small business. But consider this: if they pay more up front for that new logo, but end up getting double the business as a result of the good design, that $1000 now seems well worth the investment.


Update: Just for clarity I want to say that $1000 was just a blind example for the sake of my argument. Logo cost depends entirely on the size of the client, experience of the designer, complexity of the project, and much more. 


I never really considered working for a big design agency post-graduation. A lot of my colleagues did, and the good news is, they are by and large doing great. But for someone like me, looking for a small quirky design studio, a nonprofit, or full time freelance work, the opportunities to make a living wage no longer look quite as optimistic. And it’s not because I’m a worse designer, less motivated, or would have a more leisurely work-life. I would actually be far more motivated to work for an organization I am passionate about, and would work harder as a result. So what is it, then?


I think it depends on where you look. Unfortunately for a small design studio, the possibility of them just not having enough money to pay you more is actually realistic. Not one, but two of the small studios I interviewed at during and post-graduation ended up having to tell me that while they loved my work and would love to have me, they “just didn’t have the money right now” to hire me. In the eyes of someone new to this world, it seemed tragic that these wonderful, passionate designers couldn’t expand their businesses, even in their success, because it is just too expensive for them to do so.


But let’s get back to that caramel macchiato. Nonprofits and individuals looking to hire freelancers fall into this trap more often than not, at least in my small realm of experience. And I think others see this too. It is the traditional format of a nonprofit to spend very little on this dirty word, “overhead.” Overhead is any spending that is not going directly to the cause, such as administrative or fundraising costs. This concept doesn’t seem so bad, right? Less money spent on administration and fundraising means more money going towards the cause, right? But then think about that overhead as that $1000 spent on a logo. If spending a little bit more on overhead to fundraise, to promote, and to have good powerful design allows that nonprofit to double the money they raise that year, then they are still raising as much if not more money for the cause, even with a higher percentage of their spending going to overhead. I encourage you to watch this Ted Talk by activist, entrepreneur, and founder of Charity Defense Council, Dan Pallotta, on overhead and the way we think about charity spending.


The macchiato effect is perhaps most strong in individuals. That $20 I was asked to do a logo for? I was asked by an individual. A student. While I know firsthand the struggles of being a poor college student, I also think this goes deeper than that. Let’s go all the way back to the thought that oh, designers just make things pretty. It may be well and true that we make your shop logo look prettier, but it is so much more than that. It’s about sending a powerful message. And developing a powerful, meaningful message takes time, skill, and a lot of hard work. Think about how many people are going to see that logo, that business card. It is profoundly important to how you or your business is seen by others, and you don’t even know it. Not all design is good design. So just because you can get a logo for $50 elsewhere, doesn’t mean that you’re going to get the same positive effect from the design. By 2015, we’ve become accustomed to looking for the cheapest, the fastest, and the easiest. Heck, there are massively popular websites out there in which clients can host a “contest” for designers to make their logo. It’s quick, they get tons of logos to choose from, and it’s relatively cheap. But is it really fair to ask for all this great work from designers at the mere chance for them to win? Would you work for free? I’m going to propose that you might not really be getting the highest quality of product here. You might get lucky. You might not. But you are seriously undermining the talent and hard work of a lot of designers.


Virginia Tech's School of Visual Art's Visual Communication Design class of 2015. And yes, we made pantone caps.


You Sure You Want to Know What it’s Like?


So what is it like graduating from college with an art degree? It’s hard. For me it means a lot of doing everything I love: working for nonprofits, selling my arts and crafts and design, and working with a lot of good friends. Unfortunately it also means a lot of selling myself short of what I deserve. Am I not charging enough because I know they can’t afford it or because I know they they think they can’t afford it or that it’s not worth that price? I’d lean towards the latter. And I don’t blame them, and I know I will continue to do this because it’s what I love to do. But if the world as a whole can learn a greater respect for what we do as artists, perhaps change will be on the horizon.


Keep dreaming.