May 28, 2020
SVSU graduate earns spot in prestigious film school
Madilyn Witherspoon doesn't let anything or anyone hold her back. Her determination to combine her passions for business and art has led to her tremendous success and has helped her forge her own unique path despite the obstacles that have stood in her way.
"I'm really keen on accomplishing what I set out to do," the Saginaw native said. "Once I set my mind on something, I'm going to achieve it."
This dedication earned the May 2020 Saginaw Valley State University marketing graduate a coveted spot in one of the most prestigious film schools in the nation. Witherspoon will be utilizing her grit and drive as she pursues a Master of Fine Arts degree in film production, with a specialization in directing, from Florida State University in the fall.
“Florida State University is ranked as the 13th best film school in the U.S. Among public universities, FSU ranked fourth. All of my hard work -- including submitting a portfolio, recording an introductory video, and traveling to Tallahassee on Valentine’s Day for an in-person interview -- paid off,“ Witherspoon said.
“I am both honored and humbled to be selected as one of 24 production students out of hundreds of applicants. If you have a dream, and have the courage and tenacity to pursue it, it can come true.”
Witherspoon, whose parents both graduated from SVSU, is all about pushing her limits and expanding her horizons. A film editing class in high school sparked her enthusiasm for art, but she didn't find a way to combine her creative mindset with her future career goals until she came to SVSU.
When Witherspoon started at SVSU, she was following in her father's footsteps as a management major, but enrolling in a graphic design course gave her a new outlook. She loved the creative aspect of the class and wanted to find a way to apply her artistic side to a business degree, so she decided to switch her major to marketing.
"I want to eventually own my own business or company of some sort, and I think that helps me," Witherspoon said. "A marketing degree has the aspect of both a business and creative mindset. I can have a creative outlet with business knowledge."
She was inspired to find a way to keep art a priority in her life and future career so she enrolled in additional art classes, spending countless hours printing photos in the lab and fine-tuning her artistic abilities.
Witherspoon received steep pushback for her ambition to study business and art, as well significant resistance when trying to get others to understand her goals. She was told that, if she was a business student, she would have to abandon her creativity and that she was not a true artist. But she was determined to prove others wrong and create her own path to success.
She decided to push her limits even further when she enrolled in an advanced-level video production multimedia course her sophomore year.
Per the course requirements, Witherspoon created her own detailed documentary for the class, choosing to highlight the history of SVSU for her project. She completed extensive research about the inception and development of SVSU, extending from the days of Saginaw Valley College in the 1960s to the present. She interviewed former longtime Board of Control member Charles Curtiss as well as former SVSU presidents Jack Ryder and Eric Gilbertson and Donald Bachand, the current president. The details and cinematography of her documentary, titled "A Brief History of SVSU," were impressive enough that it was featured by SVSU's Alumni Association.
When her class was tasked with creating a short film in groups, she planned to again utilize her skills behind the scenes and in editing. However, her group encouraged her to step outside her comfort zone, and instead, she assisted in writing and directing the film as well as taking on the lead acting role. Witherspoon was nervous about transitioning from being behind the camera to on-screen, but pushing past her reservations paid off, adding to her passion for computer graphic design and the film industry.
When the short film assignment, entitled "Camille,"
was completed, Witherspoon and her group members submitted their semester-long assignment to various festivals, not expecting a response. However, Camille's story of an artist reliving her memories through painting caught the attention of several film festivals. The short-film was screened at various festivals around the country and won multiple awards, including Audience Winner and Official Selection twice.
"We didn't know if Camille would be successful but it was something we were passionate about," Witherspoon said. "It was really rewarding that it got that kind of recognition."
Not only did these projects earn her recognition, but they also reinforced her passion for filmmaking.
“The work that I did in the video production class, with 'A Brief History of SVSU' and 'Camille,' gave me the spark and confidence that I need to ignite me in following my true passion; I cannot be more thankful for that. What an amazing experience. I will always be proud of my beginnings here at SVSU,” Witherspoon said.
As Witherspoon continues to flourish in her film career, she will join the ranks of other successful SVSU alumni, including one of "Camille’s" co-creators, Anita Pico. Pico, a 2017 SVSU graphic design alumna who recently earned her master’s degree in filmmaking from the esteemed University of the Creative Arts in the United Kingdom. Pico shares Witherspoon’s commitment to their craft, which earned Pico a prestigious commission by BBC Arts and Arts Council England to shoot her next film as part of their New Creative talent scheme.
Witherspoon plans to find her own unique path within the film industry while also honoring the SVSU and FSU alumni who have come before her.
In addition to Witherspoon’s dedication to filmmaking, she has found multi-faceted ways to unleash her talents. She utilized her passions by remaining active in various organizations at SVSU, including the Cardinal Photography Student Association, Cardinal Business Edge, Delta Sigma Pi, and the Vitito Global Leadership Institute.
These involvements expanded her worldview and inspired her vision for the future.
“My four years at SVSU have provided me with a solid educational foundation to take on whatever comes my way in the future. I learned a great deal academically, developmentally and culturally through my on-campus experiences and study abroad trips,” Witherspoon said.
“Through these programs and courses in my SVSU journey, I discovered a lot about myself and took away a lot of knowledge that has been beneficial to my growth as an individual."
As a member of SVSU's Vitito Global Leadership Institute -- a leadership development initiative for students enrolled in the university's Scott L. Carmona College of Business -- she had the opportunity to combine her business skills and artistic mindset with her service project, titled "Smiles for Seniors." Witherspoon and her group aimed to inspire joy and creativity in the residents of Edgewood Assisted Living in Saginaw Township. They accomplished this through art projects that included teaching the seniors how to sponge paint trees.
“I was influenced by a ton of great people and was able to work with local businesses on various projects as well as be involved in some community engagement projects that were extremely rewarding and enriching,” Witherspoon said.
“I believe that all of these opportunities at SVSU helped me become who I am, a more well-rounded and prepared individual. My experiences have made me ready for the future that now awaits me ahead.”
Witherspoon has spent her entire life in Saginaw, but aspires to travel the world and live all across the country. She has made the most of her opportunities at SVSU to satisfy her travel bug, including participating in two study abroad trips.
She traveled to France on a faculty-led study abroad for one of her marketing courses, touring Paris and the champagne country of Reims. Her passions traveled with her to France as well. There, she toured several prominent businesses in the area and visited the Louvre during her free time. Witherspoon also traveled to the "Fairytale City" of Prague in the Czech Republic over spring break 2020 to learn about global business practices as part of the Vitito program.
“I was very grateful and honored to be a Vitito Fellow. Being a member of the group and experiencing Prague was life changing. I am very thankful to Mr. and Mrs. Vitito for providing the scholarship, and to SVSU for providing me the opportunity to go to the Czech Republic,“ said Witherspoon.
All of her world travels gave her the confidence she needed to take the next step and move across the country to chase her passions.
Witherspoon's determination to follow her own path and refusal to let others limit her potential has led to incredible opportunities and vast success. While she greatly values the advice and knowledge she receives from others, she knows that to achieve all of her future goals, above all else she needs to listen to herself.
"You have to listen to other people, but also listen to yourself and what you need to do. If I listened to others I wouldn't be where I am," Witherspoon said. "I'm proud of how far I've gotten and everything I've accomplished. I have no regrets."