Every spring, I’m hit with a wave of nostalgia as purple and gold cap and gowns flood my social media. This year, I came across the link of another graduate’s commencement speech. Not expecting much, I clicked anyway, prepared to be bored after a minute. Instead, Mia Brabham pulled me in with her joyous smile as she stood under an umbrella, speaking to the James Madison Class of 2016.
With rain falling down, Mia spoke to her classmates one last time about the uncertainty that lay ahead. “We’re about to step out into the world, and I mean really step out into the world. This time, there is no set path…the possibilities are endless,” she says to the eager crowd. Mia compares graduating to shaking a magic 8 ball, which often we receive the response “Reply Hazy, Try Again.” She insists it’s the best response you could get.
After a full work day, and dinner with a friend, Mia is still willing, and excited to conduct our interview. Two months after that speech, I am itching to know how Mia has shaken things up herself, and where the haze has led her. It’s past 9:30 pm, and not a hint of exhaustion can be detected in her voice. She’s ready to give it her all. It’s a testament to who she is and already I’m taking lessons from her.
In May, Mia completed her degree in Media Arts and Design with a minor in Creative Writing at James Madison University. The School of Media Arts and Design or “SMAD” is home to students with a passion and ambition for working in the media industry. These hopefuls graduate every year with sights on finding an entry-level position that will eventually be a catalyst for their career or start from the bottom by creating their own start-ups. In Mia’s case, she’s recently accepted an Assistant Editor position for Monumental Sports, a D.C. based Sports Entertainment company. It’s something new for her, and even out of her comfort zone, but she embraces the change with open arms. “I love telling stories, and sports is a story.”
Despite our two year overlap at the same university, studying the same program and involvement in similar organizations, Mia Brabham and I never crossed paths. However, her passion is familiar and listening to her bold dreams is like looking into a mirror. That being said, this young woman one of a kind.
While most seniors opt out of their responsibilities before finals week, staking claim on their alumni status as soon as they’re able, Mia Brabham decides to take on one last project.
In the book Tuesdays with Morrie, the author Mitch Albom makes weekly visits with his former college professor, who taught him more than 20 years ago at the time. Mitch had the chance to reconnect with his mentor, Morrie Schwartz, who was suffering an illness that would eventually end his life. They spoke weekly, as Mitch gained a new insight from the person who helped shaped his life.
It’s the story that inspired The Last Lap, a ten episode podcast produced by Mia herself, featuring JMU’s most notable professors.
“How did you get all of those professors to say yes?”
“You just have to ask.”
It seems simple, but not enough young people are asking for what they want. Mia recalls sending a bunch of emails, not knowing the outcome once she’d press send. One after another, however, she received responses from willing professors, and set to work.
She admits that it was a stressful experience, being the sole producer of her podcast, but the finished product is impactful. Produced over her final days at JMU, The Last Lap is not just a podcast, but an experience that resonates with you at any stage in life. Whether you’re a student or alumni of James Madison, or randomly discover this project online, you’ll gain a fresh perspective and end each episode feeling inspired. Words of wisdom flow from these beloved educators and academics–some who share their personal stories for the first time. Mia and her fellow classmates discuss with their former professors about their values, reveal how they fell into their careers, and give advice to those stepping out into the world.
Mia’s not afraid to ask anything, which makes you listen a lot more attentatively.
“What interview or professor was your favorite?” My question is met with genuine laughter and a pause.
Each recording was special in some way to Mia, but a few stick out to her. The first name that stuck out to me is Dr. Mark Warner, who continues to be a prominent figure in the James Madison community.
Mia was simply honored to have the opportunity and that Dr. Warner willingly gave her that time.
“I remember being so nervous that I was shaking!”
Her interview with Jay Varner is another notable experience. “He’s just so warm and fun. It’s one of my favorite episodes and truly meant something to me,” Mia says of her former Creative Writing professor.
The final podcast and last episode she recorded featured 3 of Mia’s mentors who have helped shaped her into who she is today. It was completely unplanned and last minute, but the result is a masterpiece. “I still listen to it, and every time, it gives me chills,” she says, the smile evident in her voice.
The Last Lap is a love letter to those that influenced Mia during these past four years. A celebration of learning, society, and diversity.
Before her days at JMU, Mia grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with her two parents and three brothers.
“I’m so blessed to have them…Whatever I wanted [to do] they supported me.” Mia’s relationship with her parents is apparent as she gushes about them. Unlike her brothers, who are low key and down to earth, she admits to being the outgoing one of the family.
Mia knew she was different, but this fact didn’t bother her. Instead, she took all of that energy and transferred that into being creative. Mia says, “I was an entrepreneur at age 7.” She sold coloring books and slushies to kids in the neighborhood. She actively participated in dance and theatre. The television show Hannah Montana influenced many made-up dance routines with her and her friends. She even wrote her own TV show pilot titled Living Life on the Beach.
Like myself, Mia’s young adult years span the early 2000s. It was inevitable that she found an outlet in YouTube. In 2007, the video streaming website looked a lot different. Instead of brands owning content or ads being shown after most videos, YouTube was a space for creative kids who had access to cameras and the Internet.
Mia recalls the first time she edited a video. Using Windows Movie Maker, she’ll never forget the pop up box that gave her the option to “Make a Movie.” It’s a standout moment in her life, and from then on, she hasn’t looked back. Her channel is filled with original shorts and personal vlogs that are reflective of YouTube’s glory days. Over the years, her YouTube channel has grown, garnering 18,200+ subscribers and 121 videos.
However, YouTube is just one of many platforms Mia utilizes to share her voice. In addition to vlogging and her podcast, she uses her blog to connect to another audience. She refers to herself as a Content Creator, embracing how the title doesn’t confine her to any boxes.
Because of her involvement with very public platforms, I wonder if she ever deals with the pressure to be “always on.” Mia admits to struggling with anxiety for most of her childhood. So much that she stayed close to home and didn’t think she’d ever make it to college. When you’re a person that smiles so often and generally has a positive mindset, it can be difficult to be taken seriously when you’re not at 100%. To this she says, “People expect you to be the person you’ve always been. It’s not always your job to explain.”
And while she knows it’s not necessary, she continues to tell her truth, anyway. “My anxiety was this sort of inner storm and outer calm,” she says. Her struggles have given her a thicker skin and the push to keep moving forward.
I ask Mia the most harrowing question for a recent college graduate, “so what’s next for you?” She doesn’t have anything concrete for me, and she’s solid as she explains how that’s okay. In a time where it’s easy to fall under the pressure of staying relevant and creating back-to-back, Mia is taking time to get to know herself better. She values her family, love, kindness, and happiness. If she’s not happy doing something, she won’t be doing it. “Focus on who you are before you create that next piece of content,” Mia says. A piece of advice helpful to all creatives.
But don’t worry, there are notebooks filled with her golden ideas, waiting to be explored. Mia Brabham is only at the beginning of her journey. Her natural born talent for storytelling, connection to people, and genuine kindness will take her far.
“Every time you tell your story, it becomes more clear to you.”
Our conversation has been filled with inspirational nuggets, but I feel the hair stand up on my arms as these words sink in.
We are thankful for your voice, Mia, and can’t wait to hear your next story.