Interview: Her Campus "22 Under 22"
Check out the published story. A big thanks to Her Campus.
Her Campus: What do you consider your greatest achievement to date?
Elle Beecher: “Dear Brandon, About five hours ago, I stumbled across Humans of New York for the first time. And in those five hours, I’ve read every story you’ve ever posted. I cried. I laughed. I laughed until I cried. I felt every emotion on the spectrum. And I am so inspired and moved by your project that, as of three minutes ago, a Humans of UF page was born.”
Those were the first few lines of the email I sent to Brandon Stanton, creator of Humans of New York, on February 17, 2014. That was the day I found the project that inspired me to found my own. (If you haven’t heard of HONY: Treat yo’ self to some popcorn, search for HONY on Facebook, and set aside five hours for your daily dose of inspiration.)
Humans of UF combines storytelling, photography and social media – and it starts by striking up conversations with random University of Florida students and asking about their hopes, dreams, insecurities, life-changing moments and everything in between while snapping their portrait. I then share this photo-story with an audience of over 30,000 people across four platforms. But it’s become much more than a project for me. It’s my biggest teacher. It taught me about the strength in vulnerability, the kindness of strangers, the power of words – and that the best lessons don’t come from school, but from the people you walk past every single day.
HC: What was the hardest part about creating HOUF?
EB: Hands down, the toughest part was getting past my harshest critic in the continental United States: me, myself and I. Let’s rewind the clock back to March 17, 2014 – launch day. For a solid three hours before publishing Humans of UF on the interwebs, I paced back and forth in my dorm room and let my mind run wild with “what ifs:” “What if people don’t like it? What if they think my photo quality is bootleg or my stories are boring? What if my mom is the only person to ‘like’ the page?” At one point, my nerves had gotten so bad that I almost ended the project before it began.
But, with a peace sign in the air and the spirit of YOLO in my heart, I pressed the launch button – and watched the number of Facebook likes grow to over 2,000 by the end of the night. That reaction from friends (and total strangers!) completely changed the way I look at my work. It might not be perfect – but nothing is, and it doesn’t have to be. Because if you love what you do, others might just love it too.
HC: Why has your participation in student government been so instrumental in your life?
EB: Not going to lie, I could write a 100-page thesis on all things UF SG, but here’s the SparkNotes version: Student Government at the University of Florida boasts a budget of $20 million and has a massive influence on the resources, services and opportunities provided to 50,000 students. But it’s also been controlled by a handful of students in Greek life (who all run with the same political party and are elected by the thousands of students in Greek life) for decades.
But having one party control a government is dangerous – which is why I helped found a brand new opposition party in spring 2015. I served as Brand Manager and built the party’s image from scratch through photos, videos, graphics and social media in a sleepless whirlwind of 30 days. We won. (With the highest number of votes in UF SG history and the first minority party win since 2004!)
My time in Student Government has made me fearless. I’ve built brands, created a viral campaign called #NotMySystem that received international media coverage and made it my mission to break the status quo. Student Government has shown me that a small group of passionate people can do anything. That you can create something out of nothing and inspire thousands of people to support it. And that, to make a real change, you have to turn “Somebody should do something about that” into “I am that somebody.”
HC: Who in your life most inspires you?
EB: This is a major toughie. As someone who spends hours learning from strangers and watches a motivational TED talk every night, inspiration is a key ingredient in my routine. But of all the humans (at UF and beyond!), I would have to say my mom and dad inspire me the most. My mom – for her infectious positivity, selflessness and courage to stand for something even if she stands alone. My dad – for his tireless work ethic, support and commitment to giving no less than 100 percent. They’re the most inspiring role models a girl could ask for.
HC: What advice do you have for other ambitious collegiettes with a goal or dream?
EB: In my freshman year, I went to a lecture by Bill Frakes, an award-winning Sports Illustrated photographer who’s traveled the world and captured it in vivid color. We were in a small classroom and, instead of presenting to us, he started a conversation with the audience. I asked him a simple question: “What is one piece of can’t-live-without-it advice you would give to aspiring changemakers?” He paused for a few seconds and said: “Expose yourself to as much as possible. The more you know, the better your work will be.” That was a game changer for me. I challenge you to do the same. Go to lectures outside your major. Go to plays. Go to science fairs. Go to art shows. Go to research seminars. I promise that it will shine through in your work and take it to the next level.
HC: What are your top goals and priorities post-graduation?
EB: I really, really want to change the world. I want to tell stories that matter, connect people to ideas and each other, and start projects that make people want to inspire and be inspired. Right now, the plan is to attend a top 10 MBA program, work in the technology industry and become a business owner who is filled with passion and fueled by caffeine. (Cue the all-nighters and Starbucks runs!)
HC: What is your favorite inspirational quote?
EB: “Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Apple advertisement, 1997
HC: How would you describe yourself in five words?
EB: Study the status quo. Challenge it.