Kings and paupers


Last May, John Thomas MacKenzie Rowe (’12), known to his friends as Mac Rowe, graduated from JMU with a degree in media arts and design, a minor in film studies, and a musician’s dream. He headed north to the Big Apple. Since then, he’s learned a lot about the roots and the cost of change. Now a solid New Yorker, he shares an honest and gritty perspective on change and what really happens when you pass through ….

Everyone’s story

by Mac Rowe (’12)

I stepped off the train in New York City unknown and unnamed.  Just a kid with a guitar, some harmonicas, and a lot to say.  You hear about these sorts of things in books and movies, but it was time to create my own life, to carve a place out of the steel and stone of the city for a story that I thought, and still think, is everyone’s story. I have lived in the capital of the world now since June 11, 2012, and I have only left once. It is certainly different here, especially from the pace and mentality of James Madison University in the beautifully sleepy Harrisonburg. The city can be hard and not for everyone, and I’m not even sure it was really for me, but I have since made it mine.

MacRoweJMU surely preaches a great deal about change and how each and every student can be a change in whatever they do. I know there are many that at first disregard this notion — they shake off the idea that they could ever do anything that has not been done before.  However, JMU never does keep the cynics or insecure for long.  These doubts are only minor delusions that can swiftly be quelled by the excellent faculty and services provided in and out of the classroom.  Sure, there have been countless changes made in the past, but we do not possess the foresight to fathom what we are capable of.  If we did, there would be no reason to even be educated.

Thus, in order to change anything, we must first be changed. So I ask you why you came to college in the first place. Was it to pursue a certain field about which you are passionate? Was it because due to American social norms, the general consensus for 18-year-olds is to pursue higher education? Did you come to party? Did you come to find love? Did you come to challenge yourself because no one else in your family ever pursued higher education? Did you come simply to make a better life for yourself and your loved ones? Whatever it was you came for really does not matter. What matters is that your expectations for how you will learn and essentially live will be not only exceeded but also entirely different after four years, or however long you attend.

I’ve seen a lot of things in New York City. With a population of over eight million and just a few hundred square miles of land, you’re bound to see something. I have seen and lived in a city that is simultaneously thriving and dying. There are golden kings, and filthy paupers. What I have seen is a place in dire need of reform and change.  Of course New York is a well-oiled machine that works all the time, but there are many pieces that have fallen through the cracks. I have met lifelong friends and also countless ideological enemies. Just like any new place, there is always a learning curve and an adaption phase. But I think what I have learned at JMU that has helped me stay alive here.

When I speak of the education I received at JMU, I’m not talking about the tests, the papers, how much I could eat at D-Hall, or all the loves and losses I endured. I’m talking about that stuff between the lines of this page. I’m talking about the blood shed with my friends and fellow students I never knew, the memories branded straight onto my brain, the tears, the hate, the joy, the triumph, and the eventual moving on from all of that. When I say that in order to change anything, you first must be changed, all these ideas mentioned are the catalysts to your change. And I know you know exactly what I’m talking about.  You may have never put them into words or feel it unnecessary to speak of all which molds you.  But I can tell you for certain, we are given a short amount of time and why would you ever waste all that has molded you? Why would you make for naught all that has led up to this point? Why would you choose to make life more difficult for your children and their children? I assure you that many have bled for you by taking hold of the great mystery of existence. Their change that they fought for was and is now your change. So, take hold of those messages you are ever decoding through perception. Own them. Suffer. Learn. Change.

What I intend to do in New York is give a voice to the voiceless as a musician. What you intend to do wherever you end up is completely up to you. But be with me in this fight — suffer, bleed, and live with me so that we may change our worlds around us, but also the entire world itself. It can be done. You’ve seen it in all the books, movies, and anything that ever influenced you enough to make the hair stand on the back of your neck.

I’m not imploring anyone to move to a huge city and have a borderline crazy mission. What I am imploring you to do is to take what you’re given and give it back tenfold – all of it.  JMU is changing you whether you like it or not. And you will change things around you whether you like it or not. So stay hungry, keep fighting, and know deep within yourself there is no one too small to forge some of the greatest change this world has ever seen.

You can catch up with Mac on Facebook, Vimeo or LinkedIn.


Twitter, Tumblr, iPad, Tweet

If you’re a fan of 1970s spy novels, you probably know George Smiley, the main character is John Le Carre’s novel-turned-movie, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The book’s adapted screenplay is now vying for Oscar gold. George is a retired intelligence officer recruited to find a mole. Like any spy novel, it’s full of twists and turns, red herrings and dead ends. One clue, one revelation, one discovery leads to yet another question.

In this case, it leads me to this question: Why are we so enthralled by movies? If you don’t think we are, consider how much Oscar discussion is going on right now…..think of it as Twitter, Tumblr, iPad, Tweet.

We are captivated by movies. None more so than today’s students who are incredibly video saavy. Film studies, in fact, has been one of the fastest growing majors across the country for a decade or so. At JMU, the always popular and cutting edge School of Media Arts is churning out videographers every year into industry careers that, their professor tell them, “don’t yet exist.”

Much of the growing influence and interest in movies and film is its ubiquity. We are surrounded by it, largely due to technology. Film is —literally — at our fingertips.

Case in point: According to Wikipedia, after the iPad launched 21 months ago, it sold 3 million devices in 80 days. By the end of  2010, that number had jumped to 14.8 million. Recently, Bloomberg’s Peter Burrows reported that Apple is worming its way into business. Burrows wrote that iPad seems to be the mole that is burrowing (sorry, couldn’t resist) into the corporate world. The iPad, Burrows observed, “has become a standard business tool.”

While technology is changing business, it is changing us as well. Psychologists tell us that social media is altering the way we interact and technology is transforming how — and how fast — we communicate. Platforms like Vimeo and YouTube have wrestled film out of the hands of big studios, giving independent filmmakers a place. New technologies such as High Definition are sinking in price. Creative 3-D graphics are more available to independent filmmakers who continue to increase their market share, as films move from studios and theaters onto laptops and iPads.

We are all filmmakers or partakers of the craft. Who today doesn’t have a camera phone that takes videos or who, at least, hasn’t laughed at a YouTube video. Widely quoted, it is said that we absorb 10 percent of what we read, 20 percent of what we hear, 30 percent of what we see and 50 percent of what we see and hear. And that brings us back to the impact of film. Because of film’s ubiquity, availability and popularity, it is a potent medium of change.

Most of us can point to a movie that has changed our lives. For me, it’s To Kill a Mockingbird. You’re thinking of one that changed your life, right? For others who stand on the other side of the camera, like JMU alum Steve James (’77), film is the means for delivering a powerful message and changing others’ lives. Right now, Steve’s documentary  The Interrupters is changing minds about inner city life. Sadly, however — and perhaps as a commentary on Hollywood’s fickleness —  it was overlooked by the Oscars this year.

Last summer, SMAD major Peter Jackson (’12) made a video to promote the work of Every Orphan’s Hope, an organization building homes for children orphaned by HIV/AIDS in Zambia. And last summer as well, SMAD students  interned in Los Angeles, preparing the enter this powerful world of influence. You can read about them on JMU’s website.

The ability to reach millions of people with an uploaded video is a stunning opportunity. When such an opportunity is coupled with a sincere and honest desire to improve the future for others, to solve problems, to rally forces for positive change — and when it falls into responsible, compassionate hands like those of Steve or Peter — it will change the world.

To learn more about Steve James and The Interrupters, visit
Peter’s video is finished and you can view it here
And check out SMAD at Here you can read about how video has changed the lives of two alumni — to the tune of a million dollars.
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