Amazing Students

Jaylen Spidell

Jaylen Spidell. (Photo by Chad Osburn/UGA)

It took a year for Jaylen Spidell to find his groove, but when he stepped out and found opportunities to learn, grow and build a community, he took full advantage of them and says UGA “has been everything and then some.” Next stop: L.A. or New York.

Marietta, Georgia

High school:
Joseph Wheeler High School

Current employment:
University of Georgia Visitors Center

Family ties to UGA:
I’m the first to attend UGA! The rest of family went to other colleges, but hopefully we’ll have a few more Bulldogs down the line.

Expected graduation:
Spring 2020

Degree objective:
Entertainment and Media Studies

Other degrees:
Design and Media Minor, New Media Certificate

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:
The one way to do college wrong is to not get involved and I experienced that firsthand. My freshman year was a very interesting time where I was so lost at this university because I didn’t take the time to venture out and get involved. While I did have friends on campus, I spent most of my nights alone in Russell Hall 340, wondering what I could do to not be alone and experience “the best four years of my life.” I vowed to get involved going into my sophomore year and then the world changed.

Sophomore year, I got involved in an organization called UGA Miracle, and that was the changing point in my college career. It started when one of my friends reached out to me to apply to the Media Committee. I walked into that committee meeting and felt so welcomed and noticed. These people knew me as “Jaylen” instead of “the random guy that lives in Russell.” I quickly got invested and wanted nothing more than to better this organization that took me in at such a low time. The following year I jumped from a committee member to the Executive Board, serving as the co-chair for the Media Committee. This position was nothing like I expected! I shared so many hours with 31 other people that now are my closest friends and couldn’t imagine life without. This year, I had the honor of serving as communications director on the Executive Council. Words can’t describe how rewarding this year has been working alongside five others with the hope to make an impact on this organization for its 25th year. Our goal was to honor the past, celebrate today, and pave a way for the future. We focused heavily on our cause, “for the kids,” and wanted to show that we are a welcoming place full of hope and joy! I can say we definitely accomplished that.

In the spring semester, I started my current internship at Seacrest Studios as a broadcast intern. This also allowed me to combine my passion for the hospital and digital media in a very exciting way. As interns, we get to learn how to broadcast using all kinds of technology, but also meet the community of the hospital. I’ve been a part of this for two years, and each has its trend. Last year everyone was really into “Heads Up,” the charades game by Ellen, but this year is all about TikTok. The kids in the hospital will come down to the studio and we’ll spend hours learning TikToks to perform with them. It seems small and silly, but being able to make them smile makes all the hours of sweating worth it!

Then after it all, I finally got into major, Entertainment and Media Studies. During my time as an EMST major, I have learned so much about the entertainment industry. This major is rather small but has some of the best resources at this university. Last summer I was fortunate enough to be accepted to the Grady LA Domestic Field Study and have the opportunity to work in my industry. This program allowed me to connect with so many entertainment professionals. I interned at Valhalla Entertainment, the production company behind “The Walking Dead,” and 1091 Media, a film distribution company. I got the chance to work on the “Them That Follow” movie premiere with 1091 Media and learn all about the world of a production company at Valhalla.

The best decision I made was applying to be a tour leader at the UGA Visitors Center. I remember how I felt after my tour of UGA and I wanted the opportunity to help other high schoolers on the same journey. I had no idea what a dream it would be! I have the privilege to interact with thousands of students and tell them how I made UGA a home away from home. My three supervisors, EJ, Natalie and Terri, are by far the most encouraging leaders I have ever had! In this place, we are all encouraged to be our authentic selves (“caffeinated” as some dads describe me) to show the meaning of the university: a home for everyone. I don’t know what EJ and Natalie saw in me, but I’m sure happy they gave me a chance!

The University of Georgia has been everything and then some. This place has provided me so many amazing experiences that have shaped who I am today! As I continue my journey, I’ll always have UGA as my home away from home.

I chose to attend UGA because …
Unlike many of my friends, I didn’t know anything about UGA before my senior year. I’ll never forget my high school counselor telling me about UGA, and I said: “What’s that?” I toured this campus my senior year, and at that moment, I knew this was the place for me. The feeling of home and the community here couldn’t be compared to any of the other schools I visited. I’ll never forget when I saw those fireworks at 4:40 p.m. on March 13 … the best day of my life.

My favorite things to do on campus are …
… hanging out at the Visitors Center or Tate. The Visitors Center is described as the “happiest place on campus” and it is so true! When I walk in the door, I instantly become happier because of all the joy in the room. Also, having the opportunity to talk to guests about this university is the greatest gift. Then there’s Tate Student Center, home to UGA Miracle. I have spent so many hours in the Greek Like Office for Miracle that it is basically my second home. The people in Miracle are the most passionate and dedicated people I know that have become my family.

When I have free time, I like …
… to spend time with my friends. It can be anything from going to some random coffee shop, people watching (my favorite sport), or sitting in someone’s apartment. My friends at UGA love me for being me and I didn’t have much of that until college. I felt like I had to hide parts of myself in fear of being judged, and getting to spend any amount of time with people who love you for you just can’t be matched.

Jaylen Spidell. (Photo by Chad Osburn/UGA)

The craziest thing I’ve done is …
… say yes to road-tripping from Los Angeles back to Athens. I’m not a very spontaneous person, but my friend needed to drive back to Athens and asked me to join him on the ride. I always dreamed of going to Los Angeles, so that same day I booked my flight! I spent a week getting to explore Los Angeles and I fell in love. Most go along the southern border of the U.S. on the way back to Georgia, but our journey started from Los Angeles and up to Washington. We stopped in San Francisco, Napa Valley, Portland and Seattle. We then cut down diagonally, stopping to camp in Yellowstone, and then finally getting back to Athens.

My favorite place to study is …
… anywhere that’s busy and noisy! I’m a naturally loud person, so if it’s too quiet I’ll look for the noise in the silence. I also tend to get distracted by the slightest things, so if I see someone next to me doing work, I’ll feel bad and jump back in.

My favorite professor is …
How do I choose one! All my professors in the Grady College Entertainment and Media Studies department have taught me so much about what it means to work in the entertainment industry. They are my toughest critics but the biggest cheerleaders! If I had to choose, it would be Anne Gilbert. Dr. Gilbert taught my introduction class to EMST and allowed me to see it from a whole new lens. Her knowledge of how the industry operates fascinates me that I could talk to her for hours. Dr. Gilbert was the program director over Grady LA and she made sure that we not only enjoyed our internships but experienced the meaning of being an Angeleno, trying every food possible. We also talked about our love for the “Golden Girls,” which is always a plus!

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with …
… Betty White! I have loved Betty White for as long as I can remember. “The Golden Girls” is my absolute favorite show and I took a special trip to see the real house from the show. I posted on my Instagram for her birthday, did a TED Talk about her, and the list goes on and on. I LOVE Betty White. She reminds me of a lot of my late great-grandmother who was my best friend my entire childhood and Betty White gives me a way to still feel her.

If I knew I could not fail, I would …
This is a difficult question because there are so many things I’d love to try. I definitely would have my own show! It would be a mix of pop culture and bringing people on to share their stories.

On a completely different side, I have a strong passion for music. Many don’t know but I was previously a music minor for a long time, and I had to switch because I couldn’t audition in time. In an alternative universe, I would live out my secret dream of playing in a professional orchestra. I started playing the viola in fifth grade and continued to play until my freshman year at UGA. Imagine being able to perform any Harry Potter piece at the Hollywood Bowl … that would be a dream come true.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to …
Everyone says this, but I’d definitely travel! I have never been outside of the country except for Canada (but I’m from Buffalo, New York, so that was my backyard). I would love to just pick up and go to another country for a week or two. I think the top of my list is Australia. I want to see kangaroos in person and watch a show at the Sydney Opera House!

What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?
People and their stories! There’s nothing I love more than to sit down and listen to someone tell their story. In high school, I did my version of “Humans of New York” called “Humans of Marietta” where I went around Marietta and talked to people about how they ended up in there. These people were random strangers, but they trusted me with their story, and we would talk for hours. I have never stepped outside of my comfort zone like that before and that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. I believe that everyone has a story that deserves to be heard and if we took the time to share our experiences, we’d realize that we have more in common than we think.

After graduation, I plan to …
… move to either Los Angeles or New York to pursue a career in entertainment news. My entire life I dreamed of working for entertainment news in some capacity. I have no idea where the road will take me, but I believe everything will work out the way it is supposed to. It’s funny because the old me would be freaking out about not knowing, but I’ve watched so many before me go on to do amazing things not having a single idea.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be …
… my first Dance Marathon as an executive board member. Sophomore year, I joined UGA Miracle as a committee member on the media committee and quickly fell in love with the organization. I decided to apply for the executive board as the media co-chair. Many people told me it would be rewarding but oh boy were they right. All the hours in the Greek Life Office, weekly meetings, emails and long nights editing videos led to Dance Marathon. My main job during Dance Marathon was to create a video that showcased everything that happened in-event and have it ready by 7:30 a.m. the next day. I spent most of my time in the basement of Tate, and after editing for 10 consecutive hours, I was so nervous for people to see it. When it started to play, I was shaking and crying so much that all my friends on the Executive Board group hugged me. At that moment, I realized everything was worth it.