Alumni return after having it ‘Made’

University alumni on the rise in the entertainment industry provided insight to students during a panel discussion called #STJMADE at the D’Angelo Center on April 24.

The African Students Association, the Latin American Students Association, the Resident Students Association and CLE Magazine sponsored the event. CLE Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief and 2011 University grad Christopher Harris as well as Lindsey Williams, a junior, moderated the discussion.

The discussion focused on how the panelists’ experiences at St. John’s affected their careers, their views on opportunity, success and the downsides of the lives they’ve chosen as well as how to cope with those downsides.

Aristotle Torres, whose company, By Any Means, has provided marketing campaigns for Rick Ross, J. Cole and Fabolous, defined college as more than just lectures and textbooks.

“You’re paying for a network,” he said. “The degree is cool, but what you’re really paying for are the people sitting next to you. If you leave here an introvert, then you have wasted your time.”

Attaining a career in the entertainment industry often requires a nontraditional route when compared to other professions, the panelists were asked why they felt finishing their educations was important as opposed to solely chasing their dreams.

“I’m quite a juggler,” said Barbara De Laleu, who holds an array of responsibilities at Cox Media Group Long Island 106.1 and 1600 AM WWRL, including on-air personality.

“I’m still in that education process. Two master’s degrees going toward the Ph.D. route, all while doing this radio thing.”

Kanayo Ebi studied psychology during her time at St. John’s and now works as a celebrity fashion stylist and image and brand consultant.

Her clients have included “America’s Next Top Model” winner Dani Evans, actress Adrienne Bailon and former “American Idol” contestant Joanne Borgella.

“I was told not to take [fashion] seriously,” she said, going on to say that she didn’t even start working toward her fashion career until after she graduated with her psychology degree.

She had a friend who modeled and asked to help her put together looks for a photo shoot.

She accepted her friend’s request, which led to meeting and keeping in contact with people in the fashion industry, which then ultimately led to her current career.

Torres told students that the people they decide to surround themselves with will have an effect on their opportunities as well, saying that his peers’ accomplishments are constantly inspiring him to achieve more.

“If you’re the smartest person in your crew, then you’re in the wrong crew,” he said, encouraging students to seek people who will make them better.

While many of the panelists defined success as being happy and fulfilled, DJ Zeke, who has been featured in Maroon 5, Common, J. Cole and Ryan Lesley concerts, disagreed with this notion.

“I don’t think you ever really reach it,” he said. “You’re always running after it. There’s no real key,” he said.

“You have to find your own way in. Sometimes you have to break a window, make your own path. What works for others might not work for you.”

De Laleu told those present that they would encounter hard times in their career, but that it was completely normal.

“If you’re going through hell, you’re doing it right,” she said.

De Laleu then described how resentment caused by working countless late nights and wondering why colleagues were rising faster than her was always alleviated by people calling in to her show with declarations of admiration.

The panelists also discussed how being ambitious in your career, although advantageous, could be detrimental to other parts of one’s life.

DJ Zeke said his drive has led to deteriorating relationships with family members.“When you’re working continually, you lose connection with your family,” he said.

“Me and my younger brother aren’t as tight as we should be. Sometimes I think I failed as an older brother.”

Harris said he was pleased with the amount of students who attended the event. The D’Angelo Center room was packed with very few seats left open.

“It definitely turned out well,” he said. “It’s positive to see a lot of students come out, able to learn a number of different things.”