You’re the man, Gary.

I’ve spent this entire last semester working on my writing skills, searching the inner depths of my mind and my emotions for stories to tell everyone — whether they care to read them or not. It’s been a fun, enlightening experience to say the least. I can remember the blog posts that my friend published and publicized on Facebook the year before, and I thought to myself, “Damn, this class seems really interesting, but I wouldn’t have anything to write about.”

I really didn’t think I was interesting at all. And hell, I still think that everybody around me is way more interesting than me. But really, what this class taught me week after week was that everyone has stories to tell — it just takes some serious thought. Eventually, you begin to realize that you have a highlight reel, it’s just been behind-the-scenes this entire time. And so you publish it, and show it on the big screen.

And that’s when it begins. You begin to brand yourself.

But what’s the good in doing all this work for yourself if you can’t show it off to the people who can do something about it? Want some help? Gary’s got it covered.

Almost every week, we blogged. And almost every week, Gary would bring in a plethora of different speakers, to offer up branding tips, motivation, and to answer the “What next?” in our lives. He clearly leverages his connections. And he’s hoping that we do the same. “What are you waiting for? Follow these guys on LinkedIn! That’s why they’re here, that’s why I’ve got their contact information.” He pushed us constantly.

What Gary wanted to see from us was initiative. Not just effort, but the willingness and the balls to put ourselves out there first. Almost every class, there would be a TEDtalk or a college graduation speech that tied back into our class topics. These guys were fantastic public speakers, who all had some life-altering experiences that compelled them to share their stories and inspire others, and even just give advice for those entering the unknown. Here are a few of my favorites. I have them all bookmarked:

Great talk on getting yourself out of your head, and forcing yourself to be uncomfortable. Move forward.
A great talk on leaders, and having purpose. “Start with why. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
Kevin Carroll, former “Katalyst” at Nike and game-changer for the world. Gary actually got this guy to speak to us in person.
Great graduation speech by the late David Foster Wallace, supplemented with imagery. Tells you to put yourself in another person’s shoes to get a better outlook and attitude on the world.
A convocation speech to freshman by Nicholas Selby, Class of 2016. Passion, relevant advice, badassery. Incredible.

I’ll probably never forget any of these speeches.

And you know, I probably won’t forget all the things I learned in this class either. The class integrated social media — I took the initiative to experiment with Wordpress, Tumblr, and Medium, to find out which blogging platform was best for me. I learned to keep myself aware of the changing digital landscape — and learned what my favorite ads and executions were. In fact, I’m pretty sure that it’s what landed me a job this summer. So that’s a plus, for sure. And most importantly, I learned to put myself out there because hey, it’s better than keeping yourself bottled up. There are people who care about you and what you stand for, and those people can help make a difference in your life.

Gary essentially gave us a TEDtalk of his own that spanned an entire semester. One on motivation, getting out of your comfort zone, remembering your conversations, and leveraging them in the future. Every class, I’d be shocked at how many people Gary showed us in class who went viral, and how many he’s been able to keep in touch with. “Every year, I ask this guy to speak in my class, and he always returns my emails. But he’s just so busy.” But hey, it’s worth a shot.

Thanks for changing my outlook on life in a single semester. Above all, this class has been an amazing life-coaching experience. And I’m still a junior. I shouldn’t speak for our Class of 2016 seniors, but I’m sure they appreciate it and feel the impact of it even more. What a way to go out.

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