College Playbook in USA Today, Courtesy of Tom Hanaway

By Sara Steffes Hansen (@sameplane)

Time warp to Fall 2007: First class, Intro to Journalism & Mass Communication, big lecture hall – in Row One, a slender, argyle-clad freshman named Tom Hanaway. Up front, I enter to teach about media effects wearing a long, sparkling turquoise wig. Complete silence among 100 students. Not sure if I’ll ever have my students’ attention quite like that again.

But what caught my attention in that sea of stunned faces were students like Tom Hanaway. Despite the massive room and freaky professor hair, these students boldly raised their hands to comment and question, and risked saying something not quite right.

During his college years, Tom’s been a regular in my classes and our social media intern for the Journalism Department. His willingness to take risks, develop new social-media skills and step up in professional duties helped him land great internships, opportunities at high-profile events and amazing study abroad experiences.  Tom is among our fine Journalism graduates on Saturday – and leaves a college playbook with tips for students nationwide in a USA Today blog. With some fun Justin Bieber lyrics, Tom provides helpful insights, including:

“When I first entered college, I was scared senseless with little direction and a fear of change. Fast-forward four years and I’m a completely different person. I’ve had several internships, I’ve studied abroad and I have a lot of loving friends. All of this was possible because I was willing to step outside of my comfort zone.”

It’s worth noting that Tom has blogged for USA Today more than once, and exemplifies an ideal student approach to college and starting a career – especially in the media professions that are undergoing rapid change. The more you step out of your comfort zone, the more you grow – the more you can take on challenges and set new goals. Success can take many forms in your lifetime. What matters most is to believe in yourself – your ideas, creativity and voice – in trying new situations. Give it your best shot.

So stretch out beyond that comfort zone – in college and career. Someday, we’ll say “Justin Bieber – who?” We’ll use the brain app to download lectures. We’ll watch today’s Journalism grads leading the charge as seasoned professionals handling all the complexities changing media can dish out. Yet, Tom’s classic advice will be continually relevant, like argyle. So live it, wear it and make each moment count.


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