In their article featured in Knowledge and Memory: The Real Story, Roger Schank and Robert Abelson claim that “knowledge... is experiences and stories, and intelligence is the apt use of experience and of the creation and telling of stories” (16). I can think of no better quotation to summarize both my experience as an English major at Princeton and my professional experience as a documentary producer and filmmaker beyond its gates.
I have spent the past year working as an archival producer at RadicalMedia on Abstract: The Art of Design (Netflix) and Year Million (National Geographic). During this same time I have also been serving as a Collaborative Studio fellow at UnionDocs, where I have been involved in the production of three short documentaries. Both activities have built upon my previous work in documentary, television, and film production in the United States, Mexico, and Peru.
The English Department exposed me to stories from all sorts of authors, periods, and genres, teaching me how to take them apart, piece-by-piece, and reconstruct them into my own analysis of what I experienced within those pages. It allowed me to broaden my own experience with these texts by giving me the freedom to pursue my own diverse interests as they pertained to and diverged from the written word. As an undergraduate, I was able to write about performance, film, dance, art, and music as a means of complementing and interrogating the more traditional texts I read.
This experience fundamentally altered the way I view the world and the diversity of stories it contains. It ultimately allowed me to begin to tell my own stories through the medium of film. Being able to construct a story from diverse audiovisual elements is a process virtually identical to that which I used when writing papers at Princeton. My undergraduate experience has provided me with the broad knowledge necessary to detect thematic, narrative, and even audiovisual parallels across materials in order to tell the story that I feel needs to be told. It equipped me with the techniques by which a narrative can be stripped down to its most basic elements and rebuilt to shed light on an overlooked aspect of the subject at hand. My way of creating storyboards is virtually identical to the way in which I outlined my papers; cutting together sound bites to develop a sequence is indistinguishable from my process of culling quotes from texts to build out an essay.
Since graduation I have been lucky enough to do the work I love with a diverse, talented group of storytellers, a diversity of experience that I view as an extension of the encouragement I received from English faculty to push the boundaries of the discipline and its canon. I was encouraged to apply my knowledge to my creative works beyond my writing, something that I continue to do to this day. It is this sort of “intelligence” for which I owe the English Department enormously and for which I remain forever grateful.