Alumnus Joseph Staten addressed graduates and their families at the 2011 School of Communication Convocation Saturday, June 18. The annual ceremony celebrates the school’s new alumni. More than 300 graduates of the Class of 2011 participated in the ceremony.
The ceremony featured a performance by graduating theatre major Liz Olanoff, as well as remarks by Dean Barbara O’Keefe, University President Morton Schapiro, presentations of diplomas by department chairs and faculty members, and the keynote address by Staten.
Staten was introduced by graduating seniors at both convocation ceremonies. Kruti Parikh, a human communication sciences major, introduced Staten at the 1:30 p.m. ceremony for the departments of communication sciences and disorders and communication studies. Thomas Casserly, a theatre major, introduced the speaker for the 5 p.m. ceremony for the departments of theatre, interdepartmental studies, performance studies, and radio/television/film.
Staten himself is a 1994 graduate of the Department of Communication Studies, also studying acting because he hoped to become a CIA operative. That didn’t work out, but he found a home for himself in the video game industry, where he is the design director for Bungie, the company that created the widely popular Halo game series. In 2007 Staten was tapped to write the fifth Halo novel by the publishing company Tor Books. Halo: Contact Harvest was Staten’s first novel, but it was both a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. He also called upon his acting training to provide the voices for several popular Halo characters.
“As I went from Northwestern to Japan to grad school – as I worked toward a future that felt less and less like the one I wanted – I realized my true passion was mastering…rules of storytelling; learning how to tell playable stories filled with mystery and adventure,” Staten said. “Fortunately, this realization happened right about the time the U.S. Government told me they really didn’t need any spies who could quote Samuel Beckett.”
Going with his plan B wasn’t just a matter of happenstance, though. Staten told the graduates that lucky breaks would come, but they had to be ready.
“Luck is the opportunities you make for yourself when you combine passion with persistence,” he said.
Staten also advised the graduates — if, he said, they’d “humor someone who spends his days writing about aliens and lasers — and, more importantly, the proper use of lasers on aliens – to create more than they consumed.
“You live in an on demand world where everything is yours to consume,” he said. “In the future, the distractions — the draws on your time — will only get more sophisticated and subtle. And you must resist.”
Staten’s last piece of advice came from his experience with designing games, where the rules set the parameters of the play, and where the most popular games are collaborative: Be kind.
“Because I believe the game of life also has rules, and the most fundamental rule is this: the biggest challenges you will face in the years to come cannot be solved alone,” he said.