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Class of 2012: Graduating seniors lay claim to the larger world

Every year, Northwestern magazine publishes a list of “all-star seniors.” Take a look at the School of Communication’s Derrick Clifton. But just one all-star isn’t enough for us. Meet just a few of the rising stars from the Class of 2012:

Stone Pinckney will begin his professional acting career in Chicago later this year. The theatre major is going to make hay on local turf, working as a personal trainer and actor, with an eye towards a future move. “I plan on transitioning to New York or Los Angeles and taking the necessary steps to pursue acting full-time,” he said. “I’m always looking for more ways to improve my craft and I look forward to training at studios in the city.”

Guided, he said, by a spiritual drive to “change the world by helping people and influencing their lives,” Pinckney hopes to continue acting in productions that have a transformative effect on people. He also hopes to work with children. “This year, I interned as an assistant teacher in creative drama at Haven Middle School,” he said. “I coach youth baseball, and I recently began teaching Sunday school. One my friends calls me the ‘King of Kids.’”

Pinckney is grateful for the mentoring he received from lecturer Betsy Quinn, whom he called his “school mom,” as well as from associate professors Rives Collins and Henry Godinez. Earlier this year, he performed the role of Cholly in the Theatre and Interpretation Center’s mainstage production of The Bluest Eye, an experience he called life-changing. “It was an incredible blessing to be a part of that show,” he said. “I couldn’t have dreamed of a better way to conclude my theatre career at Northwestern.”

Katie Marovitch is heading to Hollywood. The communication studies major will intern this summer at Playtone Productions in Los Angeles. Afterwards, she plans to move to New York to focus on comedy writing. “I came out of my mom wearing clown shoes,” she said. “The most important lesson I’ve learned as a School of Communication student is just to be myself. I’m a naturally goofy person, and I’ve learned to embrace it, rather than hide it like I did in high school.”

This attitude served Marovitch well at Northwestern. She was one of twelve students chosen to participate in the Creative Writing for the Media Program, an intensive two-year course in dramatic writing where students not only learn the discipline of putting pen to paper, but also the dynamics of pitching, selling, and revising their work.

“My dream job would be to write jokes for a late-night comedy show,” said Marovitch, who intends to perform stand-up, blog, and take classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade workshop in an effort to hone her craft. And while she feels she has “really grown as a writer” over the last four years, she is not counting her chickens yet. “I am most likely going to be living in poverty for the next eight to ten years,” she deadpanned. “So if anybody has a couch I can crash on, please contact me.”

Ryan Hynes has left the building. The radio/television/film (RTVF) major departed campus two months ago after being accepted into NBC Universal’s Page Program. (While the guileless Kenneth, on 30 Rock, may be the most well-known NBC page of the moment, past trainees include Regis Philbin, Ted Koppel, and Today Show correspondent Sara Haines.)

During Hynes’s 12-month tenure as a page, he will be given various twelve-week assignments that will expose him to different parts of the company. He said he was “anxious to work in a deadline-driven environment like live television—something that requires a lot of coffee.”

Hynes, who played Romeo in a Northwestern production of Romeo and Juliet, as well as served as this year’s Arts Alliance president, said that his School of Communication education has greatly helped him hone his communication skills. “After being asked to express my ideas clearly and efficiently for four years,” he said, “I feel confident writing to anyone now.” And he is ready to embrace the banner of his new employer. “I’ve heard peacocks are territorial,” he said, “which is important in New York City, I presume, with the high rent costs and whatnot.”

For Britt Banaszynski, the dance will go on. Along with fellow dance major Leah Martin and an ensemble of dancers, Banaszynski will present Roots of Earth this month, an original staged myth about home, faith, and loss. He plans to continue to collaborate after graduation to create original performances that explore memory as myth through dance, music, poetry, comedy, and drama.

Banaszynski was greatly affected, he said, by dance professor Billy Siegenfeld’s Movement Awareness class. “I learned how to approach thought, movement, and expression in their most economical and sincere forms,” he said. “He also told me that a thing is only worth doing if it’s both terrifying and exciting—and that I’m most rewarded when I take the biggest risks. This has made a big impact on my creative work, as well the relationships I have with the people I love.”

When asked to name three highlights of his School of Communication career, Banaszynski said, “Only three? Impossible!” But his participation in Dominic Missimi’s production of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass ranked high on the list. “Lyricist Stephen Schwartz called it the best production since its premiere with Bernstein himself,” he said. “The creative energy in the room at every moment of the process was palpable and moving.”

Ben Prawer will be shooting a documentary. The communications studies major be serving as an executive producer on Ty’s List , a feature-length documentary about the unexpected death of twenty-three-year-old NASA engineer Ty Lorenzi (Mc10), whose open-minded, dynamic approach to life inspired four of his friends in the wake of his passing.

After the documentary is finished, Prawer plans to pursue a job in the entertainment industry. “I’m torn between being a talent agent, directing music videos, and creating a startup company in the television sector,” he said.

This roving sense of enthusiasm is perhaps unsurprising from a guy who spent part of his junior year living on a remote cattle ranch in Patagonia (he and fellow student Gabe Brotman (C12) were sponsored by the School of Communication to study the modern gauchos of Argentia), then pulled up stakes for Hollywood, where he interned at Creative Artists Agency. Prawer is grateful to his School of Communication professors for teaching him how to pitch story ideas. “Know your audience, be lively, and hit that right combo of emotion, logic, and trust,” he said. “It’s etched into my mind.”

Olivia Curry will take off the gloves. Last summer, the RTVF major was awarded a grant from the School of Communication to travel to Thailand and make a documentary about the cultural shifts in muay thai, the sport of Thai kickboxing. Curry, who has been involved in the Chicago boxing world for the last year and a half, is in the middle of finishing this project. She also intends to secure a job related to film that will “help pay the bills.”

“I’m interested in making short sports films that rise above the ESPN model and delve into more emotional, intellectual, and visually stimulating territory that hasn’t been explored before,” she said.

The artistic philosophy she’s come away with after four years at Northwestern is not unlike one she might have picked up on the playing field. “I’ve learned how to collaborate with a team, but ultimately how to also take responsibility for my own work,” she said. “I think that’s a really important lesson to learn. If there’s something you don’t like about a project you’ve directed, it’s likely a product of a lot of people’s input, but ultimately it’s your fault and you are responsible for fixing it. I think I’ve become a more responsible person in other areas of my life by looking at things this way.”

Femi Efoe Nyatepe-Coo is on the road to becoming an audiologist. The human communication sciences major will start work on his doctorate at Northwestern’s Doctor of Audiology (AuD) program in the fall. He has spent the past two years conducting research on speech perception in noise in the School of Communication’s Auditory Research Lab.

“To put it simply, Dr. Sumit Dhar”—a Hugh Knowles fellow in communications sciences and disorders—“changed my life,” Nyatepe-Coo said. “He challenged me to go above and beyond the normal expectations for an undergraduate student by encouraging me to conduct extensive research, apply for grants, and present at conferences.”

Nyatepe-Coo, who co-founded the Northwestern chapter of the National Black Association of Speech-Language and Hearing and plays for Team Ghana on the ISA World Cup team, presented his research at the International Aging Conference in Bloomington, Indiana, last year. “Poor understanding of speech in noise is one of the biggest issues faced by older adults and the hearing impaired, especially hearing aid users,” he said. “I hope to expand my research to investigate methods that could help hearing-air users improve their hearing.”

Abby Schwarz will be teaching, performing, and directing in Chicago. The performance studies major will continue to work with the theatre collective For Youth Inquiry, as well as White Elephant, a theatre company she is forming with some fellow Northwestern grads. She will also be working as a teaching artist at the educational nonprofit Changing Worlds. “My goal is to work at the intersection of the arts and social change,” she said.

Schwarz said assistant professor Michael Rohd, a creator of devised theatre, was instrumental in shaping who she’s become as an artist. “One of the highlights of my time here was devising and performing in Student Body, the sexual assault ENU last fall,” she said. “The process taught me so much about the role theatre can play on a college campus. Another highlight was being part of Purple Crayon Players, a theatre for young audiences organization. Purple Crayon was a family for me over the past four years.”

Schwarz hopes to keep stoking the creative fires she lit during her time at Northwestern. “I’m happiest when I’m directing, performing, and teaching,” she said. “I hope that all three of these things can remain a major part of my life.”

Kelley Abell will be taking to the stage in Lincolnshire. The theatre major will be performing in the Marriott Theatre’s summer production of Hero, a new musical by Aaron Thielen and composer Michael Mahler (C04). The show will run from June 27th through August 19th. “After that, I plan to move to Chicago and find work as an actor,” Abell said.

She remembers being congratulated by a Northwestern alum after the very first campus production she performed in during her freshman year. “I was given advice about how crucial it would be for me to develop my own sense of self as an artist, in order to survive the inevitable ups and downs of a life in the theatre. I can’t recall our exchange verbatim,” she said, “but I can recall how important that conversation was to me at the time. Words of encouragement are sometimes the most important gifts we can receive as artists.”

When asked about her ultimate career goal, Abell said, “I would love to make people laugh. I’d love to collaborate with and learn from people who are smarter, braver, and more compassionate than I am. And, luckily for me, I’ve met dozens of those people over the past four years here.”