Throughout his life, Michael Banks has embraced varied interests and passions. And that didn’t change during his time at the University of Georgia.
Banks is a classically trained singer, an open water swimmer who once dreamed of swimming the English Channel and he is set to graduate with a double major and double minor.
While his path has changed from his first days as a freshman, Banks does not regret the journey. In fact, as student speaker for the fall 2022 undergraduate Commencement, he plans to share his affection for it.
“The big theme of my speech is falling in love, which might sound cheesy, but it’s about joy in the journey more than anything,” said Banks, a Jere W. Morehead Honors College student from Suwanee.
Throughout his UGA career, Banks has changed majors, added minors and explored multiple schools and colleges. He will graduate with bachelor’s degrees in journalism and international affairs, minors in anthropology and business, and a certificate in global studies.
“I really value interdisciplinary studies and being a multidimensional thinker,” said Banks. “I’ve gotten to learn a lot across four very different colleges here at UGA, and I’ve seen that trickle into how I write as a journalist, how I look at my international affairs classes. Being able to pursue that passion across different avenues and different lenses has made me a more well-rounded global citizen.”
A path forward
During his time at UGA, Banks sought guidance from peers and instructors that helped lead him down the right path.
“I kind of leap-frogged around a little bit,” Banks said. “When I started out in international affairs coming into UGA, I had the lofty goal of thinking I was going to be an ambassador.”
That changed when Banks realized his passion for international affairs came from a love of understanding different cultures, as opposed to the passion for politics some of his classmates exhibited.
His professor, Loch Johnson, suggested he might prefer anthropology, so he added it as a double major.
As a sophomore, the COVID-19 pandemic also changed his academic path when Banks paused to consider what he really wanted to study. He pulled an all-nighter to find a major or curriculum that encompasses many of his interests, and he landed on journalism.
His anthropology major transformed into a minor, and Banks focused on journalism, communications and digital media at Grady.
“I’m building a lot of transferrable skills—writing on a deadline for different audiences, synthesizing large amounts of information, learning about Adobe and web development,” Banks said. “And I’m learning all of this while I cover politics and social justice for Grady Newssource. And I think it has been, probably, one of the best decisions I’ve made in my college career.”
A world of opportunity
Banks starts a job in Deloitte’s Government & Public Services practice in Atlanta next spring, but he’s thankful for the time he had in Athens.
“Georgia felt like home starting at orientation,” Banks said. “The first person I met, and probably my best friend to this day, helped mold some of the activities and groups I took part in. She’s a Turkish citizen, and a lot of our friendship is formed on critical conversations about culture and identity, and that motivated me to pursue a very international experience, even in Athens.”
He built on his education through a number of internships—at the United Nations Foundation, McKinsey & Company and the State Department—as well as through experiential learning and student organizations.
He is a Grady ambassador, a 2022 Cox-SABEW Fellow and former president of the Dean William Tate Honors Society. He was also part of the Indian Cultural Exchange, sang with the African American Choral Ensemble and co-directed a first-year program through UGA’s Student Government Association.
“I look at my closest friends from college and not one of them has the same set of identities or lived experiences,” Banks said. “And having that diversity of perspectives has been so important in my life—I definitely recommend taking advantage of all of the international and interdisciplinary experiences that UGA has to offer.”
And as he addresses his peers on Dec. 16, he’ll also address a UGA alumnus celebrating four decades since graduation—his father.
“It’ll be the 40-year anniversary of my dad’s graduation this December, which is really sweet,” Banks said. “He graduated in the fall of ’82, and when I was auditioning to be student speaker, I knew it would be really special if I was selected.”