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VPA Junior Cameron Gray Named as a 2021 Beinecke Scholar
Cameron Gray, a junior film major in the Department of Transmedia in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, has been named the recipient of a 2021 Beinecke Scholarship. She is the second Beinecke Scholar in Syracuse University’s history.
The award provides graduate funding and mentorship for juniors in the arts, humanities or social sciences. The Beinecke Scholarship seeks to encourage and enable highly motivated juniors of exceptional promise to pursue graduate study in the arts, humanities and social sciences. The Beinecke Scholarship works with approximately 135 participating institutions. Each school may nominate one candidate per year; the campus nomination process is highly competitive. This year, the Beinecke Scholarship Program received 95 nominations and selected 16 Scholars.
Below, Gray talks about her journey as a filmmaker and her plans for the future.
01You were introduced to film at School Without Walls High School in Washington, D.C. Tell us about your journey—from that moment when you first made a connection with film to now being a junior in the College of Visual and Performing Arts. What have you learned along the way? What has inspired you?
Film has always been a part of my life, without me even knowing it! I got my first camera, a small red point-and-shoot Kodak, at age 10 and began photographing my family and even shooting short comedy episodes with my brother and sister. In middle school, I began editing and recording voiceovers. I created three documentaries all on historical topics (the Harlem Renaissance; the Impact of Sesame Street on Children’s Educational Television in the 21st Century; and the Newsboys’ Strike of 1899). It wasn’t until I took a Cinematic Arts course at my high school, and was taught by amazing artists at School Without Walls, that I really became interested and enthralled in the world of making movies. These teachers inspired great creativity in all their students and also approached art in an international, comparative and critical framework that highlighted and celebrated Black artists. In my junior year of high school, I met mentors and sponsors who gave me opportunities to shadow them on set, work as a production assistant and create my own content with their equipment. I came to Syracuse with a great foundational structure in social justice and the humanities (upon which I am continuing to build), but I was still relatively new to the world of fine arts and moviemaking. When I first started, I did feel intimidated by my classmates who had been creating and screening their films for a while.
As a young Black woman seeking to make waves in the film industry, and even just at my university, I experienced imposter syndrome frequently, where I felt like my creative voice did not belong and that lacking advanced technical skills lessened my value in comparison to my peers. Being in college gives you so many opportunities to learn more about yourself, your faith and so many things in between. One of the things that grew my confidence was learning from and working with my amazing professors in the film program, the Department of Transmedia and the Spanish department. My film professors and faculty sponsors have inspired and encouraged me to reach for the stars and to be boldly personal and creative in my work. I have learned so many things from them, one of the greatest being how to hold onto and embrace the independent spirit.
02How do you plan to use the medium of film to make a difference in local communities and in the broader global community?
I want to make films that promote cultural understanding and reflect my own communities. One way to do that is by creating opportunities for collaboration with a variety of artists coming from different racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds in all aspects of production. When speaking about diversity and equity in media, we still often view adding people of color into a system as a way to meet requirements and quotas.
03How will the Beinecke Scholarship help you in pursuing and reaching your goals?
Before I applied to Beinecke, I knew that I wanted to go to graduate school, but I didn’t know how I would be able to pay for it. It is an incredible encouragement to me to be named a 2021 Beinecke Scholar because it means that people believe in me enough to support my education. It is also a huge encouragement for me to continue to seek funding for graduate school and other creative film research projects I want to do.
04Tell us about some of the film projects you have developed/worked on during your time at Syracuse.
During my freshman year I created several short, experimental and educational films about racial identity and otherness. During my sophomore year, I wrote one of my first dramatic scripts and created two longer projects (“THRIFTY,” on the commercialization of thrift shopping and responses of the younger generations; and “Performance,” on the connotations and implications of Black performance for white audiences). My junior year, although in the middle of a pandemic, has been one of my favorite years. I have made some of my most personal and most daring work and developed my aesthetic styles.
05You are very involved on campus, with the Office of Multicultural Advancement as student co-chair for the University’s Coming Back Together celebration; as chaplain’s assistant to the Historically Black Church Chaplaincy; a mentor for first-year students through Dimensions; and as an Our Time Has Come Scholar. How have these experiences enriched your time at Syracuse and what lessons will you carry forward into your time after graduation?
If I could choose one word that relates to all of the amazing communities, involvements and families I have been a part of at Syracuse, it would be “life.” I have shared life with so many different people and that has informed who I am becoming as a director, writer and cinematographer. Moving forward from graduation, I will carry the connections I have made here at Syracuse and the lessons of resilience and strength that I have seen in my friends, classmates, religious leaders and so many more.
06What do you plan to do upon graduation from Syracuse?
After graduation, I plan to enroll in an M.F.A. program for filmmaking. Specifically, one thing I am looking forward to is working in Latin America, making narrative films and documentaries with filmmakers and artists on a variety of topics.
Gray worked with the Center for Fellowship and Scholarship Advising (CFSA) to apply for the Beinecke Scholarship. CFSA offers candidates advising and assistance with applications and interview preparation for nationally competitive scholarships. The nomination process for the 2022 Beinecke application will begin in October. Interested students should contact CFSA at 315.443.2759 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.