By Erin Clossey
Jaden Esse ’22 grew up in a theatre family. He’s used to the financial vicissitudes of the artistic life – some years are good, some a little leaner.
But nothing prepared him for the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, when stages coast-to-coast, large and small, dimmed their lights in the spring and haven’t opened since.
“I watched my parents lose a year of work in the span of a week,” Esse, a media arts production major, said. “Scholarships are the only reason I’m at Emerson College.”
As COVID-19 has rippled across the globe, it has left individuals, families, and entire industries in precarious positions. Many Emerson students for the first time are relying on financial aid to help them stay in their programs; others need scholarships to attend Emerson, with or without a pandemic.
“The College’s distinctive curriculum, global footprint, and commitment to immersive, experiential learning have made Emerson a highly sought-after school,” said Vice President for Institutional Advancement John Malcolm. “Its financial resources, however, are simply insufficient to make an Emerson education accessible to many of the qualified students who are eager to enroll. I believe it is our collective mandate to – over time – reinvent our fiscal circumstances.”
On December 1, Giving Tuesday, Emerson is launching a three-year, $10 million fundraising initiative for financial aid, so that students like Esse and Eryn McCallum ’22 can go on creating and innovating.
“Our message has always been that a gift to any fund at the College makes a difference, and it does! But for the first time we’re saying that student financial aid is our number one fundraising priority,” said Annual Giving Director Anna Biller.
“It’s critical that we have the resources to attract and retain incredible students like Jaden and Eryn. The Emerson community is already coming together in a powerful way to provide support, and it’s inspiring to see first-hand the ways in which Emersonians lift each other up,” she said.
McCallum saw a poster of the Boston skyline in her Chicago high school guidance counselor’s office and thought it looked like a city in which she’d like to spend her college years. She already knew she was interested in journalism; once she learned about the Emerson Los Angeles program, her mind was made up.
“Emerson was my top choice. To be honest, I didn’t care about going anywhere else,” said McCallum, whose parents wanted her to attend an institution closer to home that meets all admitted students’ financial needs.
Happily for McCallum, Emerson was able to offer her a scholarship package that won over her parents.
Happily for Emerson, McCallum took the College up on its offer and came to Boston, where she became not just a journalism major, but a student activist and leader.
This year, she’s a co-chair of POWER (Protesting Oppression with Educational Reform), and co-creator of The Intersectionalist, a student magazine that tells stories through the theoretical lens of intersectionality. Over the summer, she interned remotely at the African American Policy Forum, and this fall, she did another remote internship with Slowey McManus Communications in Boston. She’s considering law school after graduation.
McCallum said in an ideal world, higher education would be a right that every student has, but in reality, money can be the pathway — or the barrier — to college.
“If you have the means to give, why not help someone have the financial accessibility to get the same education you did, and potentially be able to chase their dreams the way you were able to?” she said.
Esse said there are a lot of excellent film schools in the country, but what attracted him to Emerson was the College’s commitment not just to the technical craft of filmmaking, but to the student’s growth as an artist and a person.
“Emerson is more focused on the individual, what makes you tick, what is your artistic integrity,” Esse said. “I’m very, very impressed that [the College] places a lot of emphasis on staying true to yourself, which I think is astronomically important, especially now.”
Once he graduates from Emerson and joins the ranks of alumni, Esse said he hopes he’s in a position to turn around and help students like himself, “help those students succeed so that not only do they enter the industry, but help Emerson College grow and thrive.”
“You can literally make a difference for one person, and that’s all that matters,” he said. “You’re giving them a future, and that’s priceless.”