Emerson has named a Writing for Film and Television major and a Journalism student with experience reporting in Pakistan as the student speakers for the College’s 132nd undergraduate and graduate Commencement ceremonies on Monday, May 14, at the Citi Performing Arts Center’s Wang Theatre. James “Jamie” Spetner ’12 will speak at the undergraduate ceremony at 11:00 am, and Nadia Zaffar, MA ’12, will speak at the graduate ceremony at 3:00 pm.
Kasteel Well one of his college highlights
Spetner, a Los Angeles native, was selected to speak at Commencement by a panel composed of students and administrators. He came to Emerson, he said, because of the College’s focus on liberal arts, while still focusing on specialties, as well as its students’ unique blend of being “laid-back and also hardworking.”
“At Emerson, school, our personal lives, and our passions are all so absurdly intertwined,” he said. “You go to parties at Emerson and people are talking about school because their schoolwork is what makes them happy and excited.”
Spetner has been very involved in the College’s film community. He worked in a variety of roles on numerous student film projects, and interned at Ridley Scott’s (Blade Runner, Robin Hood) film production company through the College’s Los Angeles Program. He also participated in the first-ever session of Emerson’s highly selective Writers Guild of America writing mentorship program. His assigned mentor was Richard LaGravenese ’80, LHD ’11, an Emerson alumnus and parent and writer of numerous screenplays, including The Bridges of Madison County and the Academy Award–nominated The Fisher King.
In addition to his film studies, Spetner worked closely with Associate Professor of Visual and Media Arts Eric Gordon as a research assistant on CommunityPlanit, an online engagement game platform that is being used in cities across the country to involve communities in local planning efforts. He also spent a semester at Emerson’s Kasteel Well program in the Netherlands, which he said was the single most defining experience he had at Emerson.
“Emerson’s the kind of place that really and truly means a lot to me, and I’m always trying to express that to people,” said Spetner. He is thrilled to be able to deliver an address to his peers at Monday’s ceremony.
He plans to work at a Canyon Creek Sports Camp this summer, a place where he’s worked for the past seven summers, and which also inspired his love of storytelling. Then Spetner hopes to follow his passions in both screenwriting and international/multicultural awareness.
His mother, Laurie Goodman; father Don Spetner, who is a member of Emerson’s Board of Overseers; and brother Michael Spetner will attend the Commencement ceremony.
From Pakistan to New England
This year’s graduate Commencement speaker was already an accomplished journalist when she came to study in Emerson’s graduate Journalism program. Zaffar, a native of Karachi, Pakistan, graduated from Mount Holyoke College with her bachelor’s degree in international relations with a video production minor in 2004. She then returned to her home country to help launch Pakistan’s first English-language news channel.
After working for several years as a journalist, Zaffar decided it was time to move toward her “greater ambition”: making longer, more in-depth documentaries. She applied to Emerson because of its location in Boston, an international city where she thought she would be able to stay involved in international issues, and because of how welcomed she felt by the College community.
“From the smallest interaction at the admission office to receiving the Presidential Fellowship [a graduate student scholarship], I’ve always felt really welcomed and wanted at Emerson,” she said. She arrived at Emerson in 2010, leaving behind a new husband in Pakistan, who, she said, is totally supportive of her following her dreams.
While at Emerson, Zaffar served as a faculty assistant to Journalism Department Chair Ted Gup and Associate Professor Emmannuel Paraschos. In that role, she became web editor for the Journalism Students’ Online News Service, spearheading the transition to a new system for the service. She also interned for PBS Frontline, where she got to work in longer-form journalism, and contributed some news articles to publications back in Pakistan. This past semester, she has been working to produce a documentary on a Pakistani religious minority group with the help of adjunct faculty member Marianna “Mimi” Edmunds.
Among the honors Zaffar has received while studying at the College are the Abe Schechter Scholarship from Radio TV Digital News Foundation, the SAJA CNN Broadcast Scholarship, and an invitation to speak about Pakistan and the crisis in the Middle East at Indiana University at Bloomington.
Zaffar will return to live in Pakistan later this month, where she hopes to stay focused on in-depth reporting, preferably on stories dealing with social justice and economic issues.
Three of her siblings will travel from Pakistan and Canada to attend Commencement. Her parents and husband could not make the trip, but will be watching the live stream of the ceremony from Pakistan.