Today I’d like to wrap up the fall semester reports from our first-year Student Stories writers. We’ll hear about Mariya’s semester and, particularly, her experience in the Arts of Communication class.
As I boarded my flight to Washington, DC from Boston Logan International Airport on December 17, I breathed a sigh of relief that my first semester was finally over. But a few moments later, the math major in me realized that a quarter of my entire graduate career was behind me. With this epiphany, I felt both sad and surprised at how quickly time flies. I had been so consumed with my classes, activities, campus lectures, and studying in Ginn Library’s “Hogwarts” room, that how September became December? This I do not remember.
OK, so I know that was kind of corny, but I hope it made for a good sound bite. As I reflect on my classes from the fall semester, Arts of Communication stands out as particularly special, challenging, and rewarding. I must admit, however, that I initially had no intention of taking this course after browsing through Fletcher’s course catalog that brimmed with exciting classes across diverse disciplines, regional studies, and practical skills. I accidentally stumbled upon Arts of Communication during Shopping Day and became intrigued by the syllabus and Professor Mihir Mankad’s pitch. I went back to the ever-stressful task of finalizing my course schedule and scribbled in Wednesday evenings for a full-semester course on how to become an effective communicator.
In Arts of Communication — or AoC for short — we learned by doing. We learned to connect with an audience by practicing logos, pathos, and ethos in our presentations. We recorded ourselves as we learned to face the camera and report from a studio. We practiced job interviews, debated controversial issues, and held press conferences (where I acted as the recently elected Muslim mayor of Chicago). Perhaps most important, we learned through active listening and observing, as well as giving and receiving feedback with humility. We were very fortunate that our class coincided with the U.S. presidential election, which enriched our learning experience. The campaign cycle provided live debates, speeches, and advertisements for us to dissect and analyze.
What made AoC unique among my fall semester courses, however, was the appeal to different emotions and the closeness of the class. I did not expect a graduate course to make me laugh and cry; yet, I found myself chuckling as my peers amused the class with wit, and silently sobbing as they shared personal experiences. Through speeches, debates, videos, and impromptu gigs, AoC continually pushed us out of our comfort zones, yet our common vulnerability and trust in each other bonded us as a community. By the middle of the course, we had become a family that looked after each other and served as a mutual support system.
The course itself was time-consuming and challenging. At the beginning of the semester, Professor Mankad said that becoming a better speaker would require dedication outside of the class. The video assignment, for example, took me hours to complete: in addition to careful coordination of attire, setting, sound and lighting, I edited my clips into a coherent movie. Although I felt frustrated during the process, I am grateful to the patience of my classmate Yutaro, who taught me iMovie software so that I could produce a six-minute Snapchat video. Similarly, the “value speech” was a challenging exercise for me. Modeled on the “This I Believe” project, the purpose of the exercise was to write and share in four minutes a core value that guides our daily lives. I reflected deeply upon my life experiences, went through multiple iterations of speechwriting, and spent days rehearsing my value speech with family, friends, and roommates. I delivered a speech about why one particular conversation with my father made me realize how much I value his support.
Through AoC, we grew as individuals and as a class. We will share the special bond we forged in this course for the rest of our lives, and for that we are truly grateful to Professor Mankad. As, in his past career, he had been a television anchor in India, a consultant for top firms, and a director of a foundation, Professor Mankad brought a depth of experience to the classroom. Moreover, his dedication to all 60 of his students — 30 in the full course, 30 in the module-version of the class — was evident by his accessibility, detailed feedback, and time he spent listening to hundreds of speeches. It is no surprise the course has attracted the highest numbers of cross-registered students at Fletcher. In my conversations with Professor Mankad, he told me that his favorite parts of teaching AoC is getting to know each student’s story, and helping them improve in this important area. To express our gratitude, students organized a flash mob to the tune of a commercial Professor Mankad once performed in, and created a tribute video to surprise him at the semester-end’s celebration.
I am eager to apply the skills I have gained in AoC in all aspects of my life. My first stab of pushing myself as a public speaker was in early December at a forum organized by the Fletcher International Law Students Association, where I presented on the legal aspects of UN Article 2(4), a topic I had become extremely interested in through my International Organizations course.
This semester, I am eager to take a course at Harvard, switch up my extracurricular activities, and participate in the conferences I have been helping to organize. However, I am the most excited about co-leading Fletcher’s first-ever spring break trek to Pakistan (which received over 50 applications!) with my peers Ahmad and Seher. Stay tuned, because my next post will probably be from Islamabad or Lahore, inshallah!