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Rising Stars: From Service in the National Guard to Cinematography to Advertising

By Ken Siegal

"When I returned home from Iraq, I felt like pulling out my hair. It was difficult, not having any direction for the first time in my life! As I started to explore my opportunities, I began to feel like a kid in the world's largest and most well stocked candy store!"

Name: Michael Williams
School: Purdue University; Southern Illinois University
Major: Advertising
Years Out of College: 2-5

First Steps

In 2004, I graduated from Purdue University from the Professional Pilot Program. Shortly thereafter, the National Guard unit I was part of was activated to go to Iraq. When I came home from Iraq, it was kind of a scary experience. I came home and had no job, had to move back in with my parents, and really had no direction at that time. Up to this point in my life, I always had a purpose.

So, I decided to go back to school. When I returned to school, I started out studying cinematography. I thought this would work out well, because during my time at Purdue, I bought a video camera and as a hobby, I would make videos to entertain my friends. I actually entered into a beginner's video contest and got first place. I won about 20 free pizzas from that! And, while I was in Iraq I did this too. I'd made videos from footage I shot during convoys and free time on base. That first semester back at school, though, was a real learning opportunity for me. I learned that cinematography wasn't exactly what I was looking for, despite my love for it as a hobby. The next semester I switched to advertising, and I haven't looked back since. I had finally found my shtick in life.

From Then to Now

Even though I decided I didn't want to pursue a career in aviation, I learned a few things about myself during my time at Purdue. I learned that I enjoyed writing and creating. With the encouragement of family, I focused some of my energy on obtaining a position as a reporter for the nation's largest student-run newspaper, The Exponent. I had the city beat at first.

Pumping out the standard news story had its pros and cons. It was fun going out to interview people and research new and interesting ideas. But for me, following the standard format got a little too boring. You'd write a, then b, and then c. I wanted something with a little more freedom. That's when I applied to be a columnist. I was excited when I got the opportunity. I could write about anything I wanted. One day someone on campus actually recognized me and said, "Hey, you're that guy that writes for the paper." That was one of the best feelings.

That's why I chose to go back to school for advertising. I get to create and write, my two greatest passions in life. And, on top of that, I get to learn about many new and interesting things in life. For example, at my current internship, I'm not just learning about advertising, I'm learning about a whole other culture.

Challenges Faced

I am the type of person that wants to go, go, go. I want to know what I'm supposed to be doing and set out to do it with immediate results. At the age of 25, I see many people around me that are the same age, and many have families and careers. It can be, at times, a little frustrating because I want to be where they are. But, the thing that I fail to realize is that they have been through the exact things that I am going through at the moment. I am just a late-bloomer in some ways.

I'm learning that life isn't a race and if you do what you are passionate about (not matter how much opposition or discouragement you may face), eventually, your path will take you to where you want to be. It's truly about being patient and knowing that the path to success isn't straight and predictable as we all would like it to be. And, success is relative.

My Experience

One of my goals in life has been to learn another language. The advertising program I'm in at school requires that I earn a minor in one of many different fields. I chose to minor in Spanish to keep me on track with my language goal. While looking for an internship, I came across PM Publicidad, a Hispanic advertising agency. I thought, "Eh, I'll try it, but I am not fluent in Spanish, at all!" It was one of those things where you really don't expect to get any feedback. But, to my surprise, they greeted me with open arms! My sister had the first grandchild in our family this June. I wanted to have an internship that would put me close to her during this time. Interning with PM Publicidad is an opportunity for which I am very grateful, because it allowed me to be about two and a half hours away.

I have learned about an entirely new culture, I get to use my Spanish, I get a hug at work everyday, and I have witnessed the birth of my nephew. These are all firsts in my life!

Next Steps

When I return back to school, I hope to take everything that I have learned at my internship to reorganize a student organization I'm in.I'm in a group called Saluki Advertising Agency, and, as the president, I would like to make some changes so that people in this ad agency will have the opportunity to learn as much as possible.

I also have an assistantship with the business placement center at my school. The business placement center is a critical tool in the college of business. It aids in building student-employer relations so that students will have the best of opportunities in developing their professional careers.

At present, I am also writing a book about my experiences in life before I went to Iraq and life while I was in Iraq. I think if I share my experiences in this world, there might be one person out there that will say, "Hey! I can relate to that!" To be able to do that would be joy.

Did I Ever Think I'd End Up Here?

*laughter* No. When I returned home from Iraq, I felt like pulling out my hair. It was difficult, not having any direction for the first time in my life! As I started to explore my opportunities, I began to feel like a kid in the world's largest and most well stocked candy store! I was like, 'Ooooh! I could do this. Wait. Wait! No, I could do that!' Finally, I decided that I had to pick something and do it. It might not be where I would want to end up, but it was a start. That's how you have to approach life, because if you don't, you might not ever get a go at what you want to do.

Even though some people like to do the same thing for their entire lives, I probably won't be doing that. Just from my speckled-experience past (fighting in a war, writing, flying, etc.), I will probably do many different things in life. That's just a part of my personality. I eventually hope to use my gifts in life to promote social change and help others live life to its fullest. That's exciting for me, helping others.

Advice for Others

I actually learned this from someone else, but stay in motion and don't just settle. I have learned that if you stop and allow yourself to fall short, then you've lost the battle. You might not know exactly what to do at present, but eventually, you have to take the plunge into something if you want to get in motion. You might end up further down stream than you wanted to, but who knows, you might like it. When you allow yourself those new experiences, you open up doors that you never thought would be available to you.

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