URI Grad Reflects On College Experience, Following Passions

Andrew Pilkington is an aspiring film director with Cerebral Palsy. HooplaHa named him "Awesome Person of the Week" in February 2013 while he was a student at The University of Rhode Island. He recently graduated with a degree in Film Studies and writes about his college experience.

It feels great to have graduated from college, but it is more than just having the degree. The sense of accomplishment I feel comes from having performed so well in college. In other words, I didn't just go and show up for four years. I had a 3.7 GPA and at the end of my senior year I won the Film Excellence Award based on my academic record and my film work.

When I decided to attend the University of Rhode Island, I was hoping to have more social life -- something I never had the chance to experience in high school. I had a lot of friends and I went to parties and all the other things that students do at college. After a while, it became kind of old. I found that I became much more focused on my career - finding professional opportunities and building my film and video portfolio.  I had a job while I was in college, working for the School of Communications doing all of the video editing for their promotional work. I'm glad I did that work and I loved every minute of it.

My favorite memory while at URI was one night when I was at a party with some friends. They were helping me walk up some outdoor stairs when a cop happened to drive by. He stopped us and asked me, “How much had you had to drink?” I said, “I’m not drunk at all. I always walk like this. I have Cerebral Palsy.” The cop felt so terrible, he got out of his cruiser and used his flashlight to illuminate the walkway for me! It was the funniest moment I had while at URI.

I had a negative experience but I was able to use it to my advantage. I had served on the student government during my four years at URI. During one election season, the president of the student government and I were supporting different candidates. My candidate won, but I learned how politics works when the outgoing president publicly slandered my reputation and prevented me from becoming the Campus Affairs Chairman in my senior year. I used that experience as the basis for a feature-length film called "Good Friday" that I made my senior year. I wrote the screenplay and directed a cast and crew of 80 people. It was that film work which enabled me to win the Film Department prize. So, I always try to make the best out of a situation.

I never make excuses for why I can't do something. I always find a way to get involved no matter what. I coached intramural volleyball and soccer so even though I couldn't play, I would be on the side telling the players what to do. I'm comfortable in that role but I like to think I am a nice boss.

My approach to dealing with my disability is to never let it prevent me from getting involved in anything I want to do. Of course, it depends on the specific challenges a person might be facing, but I suggest branching out by joining various clubs and activities. Get to know as many people as you can. Being social and having fun really enhanced my college experience.

I decided that I wanted to make movies when I attended the Sundance Film Festival with my mom in 2006. Before that I was thinking more about TV. When I'm making movies, I do everything from writing the screenplay, hiring the cast and crew, directing, and editing the film. When I am talking with one or two people, I give the the direction myself but when I need to address the entire cast, I have an assistant who I work with to make sure everyone understands what I'm saying. I don't want to waste time repeating myself or risking that someone doesn't understand me. So I'm just practical about when it makes sense for someone else to help out.

I love to make movies because of creating something that didn't exist before and the fun of having all these people working together and the only reason that they are there is that you set the whole thing up. You made it happen.

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