Alumni Interview: Sarah Emms

Alumni Interview

Sarah Emms, BA '14
Interviewed by Morgan McAuley

Area of Study: English & French

Having only graduated three years ago, Sarah Emms is comfortable and relaxed back on the Western campus. She sits across from me, hands clasped, back straight, prepared and punctual. For Sarah, life in her undergrad was both rewarding and challenging. She had been the President of the Arts and Humanities Students’ Council in her fourth year, filling up her free time pretty quickly: her days consisted of meetings, council work, applying to graduate programs, running a campaign for a successful USC party, and all with the end goal of advocating for all students, creating an impact, and carving out her place at Western. She tells me about how, at some points in her fourth year, she would wake up at six in the morning so that she had enough time in the day to do homework and get everything else on her to-do list completed, smiling to herself. One of her strongest memories from this time in her life is when she addressed the crowd of first-years during O Week. She standing in front of 6,000 people and being proud of her faculty, addressing future leaders who were just starting at Western while her journey was coming to an end: a moment she’ll never forget.

For someone who seems to have everything figured out, Sarah’s path didn’t always go to plan. She had thought that as an English Language and Literature and French Language and Literature major she, like her parents and grandparents before her, would attend Teacher’s College after her undergrad, but an internship between third and fourth year changed her course. That summer, she took an internship in corporate communications, something she never thought she’d experience, and then started looking at Public Relations and Communications options for post graduation opportunities. By 2015, she had graduated with a diploma in Public Relations through Western in downtown London, moving her life here to maintain the connections she’d made. Sarah thoughtfully recalls how this internship really opened up her eyes and allowed her to pursue a career path that combines her writing skills and critical analysis practice from her English degree with the details and big picture found in the corporate world and Public Relations – she loves the strategic aspect of thinking about where a company is now and how they can reach their end goal through educating an audience. She is now a Marketing Communications Specialist at a London life insurance company owned by Great West Life Co. She consults on the strategy behind the company’s communications in making people feel secure and that they’re taken care of by insurance, making it an awesome place to work, from Sarah’s perspective. Sarah’s diploma gave her the practical skills that act as a career accelerator to building her confidence in taking what she learned in her arts degree and applying it to her career. The diploma also gave her examples of writing that weren’t just essays about John Donne and the role of Ophelia in Hamlet.

Is a practical diploma the best way to get a career with an arts degree? For Sarah, it is definitely one option, but not totally necessary. She explains to me her personal connection with the Arts and Humanities, and her perspective on the arts stigma that still feels prominent at Western. The arts are what bring meaning, beauty, and value to our lives, whether through a photograph or a song or a piece of visual art, a poem, or a book, Sarah shares. Our world would be a sad place without the arts, which Sarah uses to support a joke about the U.S. Presidential Election results. In terms of a stigma surrounding the arts at Western, Sarah absolutely agrees that it exists, and that once students graduate they won’t notice it as much or at all. What people in other faculties miss about the arts faculty is that it inspires creativity and critical thinking that can be applied to all other faculties and areas of life. Sometimes people are blinded by the need to make money, and though the road is slower for arts students, Sarah believes that it is much worthwhile because students are pursuing something they are passionate about, which will render them more successful in the end, and they will still end up making a decent amount of money.

Sarah still sits as straight, yet relaxed, an hour later, as our conversation comes to a close. She looks out the window while reflecting about how, at the end of the day, her experience at Western shaped who she is. She is a kinder person, more empathetic, having felt like she’s put on someone else’s shoes and walked in them for a while. Arts gave her a perimeter perspective that didn’t trap in her in any type of bubble, giving her a greater worldview about what’s going on around her. When she had been the AHSC President, she had tried to initiate a greater connection between students and alumni as a kind of support system, and here she is, three years later, being interviewed as an alumnus in the inaugural year of an initiative she planted the seed for – if that isn’t success produced from passion, I don’t know what is. At the end of the day, Sarah will stand by her Western Arts degree no matter what, believing in the value of her education but also her experience. Don’t let the arts stigma get you down.

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