Megan McFarlane

When she stood before her peers at her high school commencement in her hometown in Minnesota, ready to give her valedictorian graduation speech, Megan McFarlane knew exactly what she wanted to say.

She wanted to answer a question: what is success?

She defined success for her fellow students as “finding what you love and doing it – and getting paid to do it.” She is living proof of that sentiment. “I think I’ve always been kind of driven by that,” she says.

Today she is still motivated by that goal, and the 2006 Vanguard University Communication graduate will begin another chapter in her life – and another benchmark of success – this fall when she starts work on her Ph.D. at the University of Utah. There, she will focus on rhetorical criticism and its role in dissecting, analyzing and writing about media.

Drawing upon her attributes of passion, achievement, and hard work, she has once again proven that faith in God, a strong work ethic, and a rigorous academic background can catapult one to great things. But her journey into the world of rhetorical criticism was not immediate. When Megan first arrived in Costa Mesa, she was intent on studying public relations in the VU Communication Department and perhaps eventually getting a job in that field.

But all that changed when she enrolled in Dr. Tom Carmody’s Media Criticism class.

What is traditionally one of the most challenging courses in the department, Megan found it to be a revelation – and fell in love with it. The formal analysis of film, television and commercials fascinated her. “I told Tom that I was going to get an A in his class. He said ‘good luck.’” But she flourished and, thanks to this class, truly found her calling in life.

It wasn’t just the research, study and writing that appealed to Megan, who also has an M.A. in Speech Communication from California State University – Fullerton. Through Dr. Carmody’s influence, she found that she also had a desire to teach. “Media Criticism is the class that made me want to go to grad school and to be a professor. I realized – this is what I want to do. I was like, this is fun!” Today, the former Vanguard track and field athlete says that media and rhetorical criticism is what she wants to do with her life. Once she had completed her degree at Vanguard and was working on her master’s at CSUF, she was hired as an adjunct professor in Vanguard’s Department of Communication. She taught every semester for four years.

Megan says that she is excited about graduate school because she will finally be able to concentrate exclusively on pursuing her academics. She has juggled several jobs and responsibilities over the years. In addition to her teaching duties at Vanguard, she has also worked as a track coach, and at a local church. What’s more, she is excited to learn from and work with Helene Shugart, one of her idols and a professor at the University of Utah. “She uses rhetoric to analyze film and television.” Dr. Shugart also is an authority on body image and how that is portrayed in the media, which as an athlete, is something that also interests Megan.

Along with God’s help, Megan believes that Vanguard played a huge role in helping her prepare for graduate school. The fact that she had a bit of teaching experience paid off handsomely. “Having four years of teaching experience really impressed people.” VU also prepared her for the rigors of actual graduate study, in the classroom. “Tom Carmody’s Media Criticism class was huge, because he taught us how to break things up into sections and to make it work.” Megan says that having Dr. Carmody helped equip her for the heavy workload that she faced at CSUF, and in the future at Utah. She will not be intimidated by the challenges of a Ph.D. program. “I went in extremely confident when I went to grad school.”

Personal relationships with professors also played a role in preparing her for the future. Megan says that Assistant Professor Communication, and Forensics coach, Karen Nishie, was a personal mentor, and stayed late one night to help her with a re-write of her CSUF thesis. When referring to Vanguard, Megan says “I’m a person here, not just another number in the classroom.”

For now, the University of Utah awaits. And afterward? “My dream is to be a professor at a university.” Megan also looks forward to research, writing and publishing. And perhaps starting a family with her husband Steven, a high school teacher and also a Vanguard graduate. The future is always a bit unclear but, for Megan McFarlane, very, very bright.

Just as she said in her valedictorian speech, Megan has found what she loves and is doing it with great joy. One day soon, she’ll also get paid for it.