The success continues for Syracuse University student-athletes in the classroom. For the third year, Syracuse University Athletics ranks in the top five among Power 5 schools’ Graduation Success Rate (GSR) scores. Syracuse’s 94% GSR is tied for the fifth highest…
Pursuing What Fulfills You: The Nontraditional Journey to a Film Degree With Ruchatneet Printup ’23 on the ‘’Cuse Conversations’ Podcast
Instead of feeling pride over being the first member of his family to earn a college degree, Ruchatneet Printup ’23 felt trapped in a dead-end job that lacked purpose, meaning and fulfillment after earning a biomedical computing degree from Rochester Institute of Technology in 1988.
More than three decades later, following an unconventional path that took him from an office job in Philadelphia to serving his community as a nonprofit advocate on the Tuscarora Reservation, Printup was driving a truck delivering The Buffalo News when he had a life-changing epiphany.
As he meditated, he realized a need to pursue his passions and return to school to earn a degree in film.
This week, Printup will graduate from Syracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) with a film degree. One of 12 University Scholars, the highest undergraduate honor the University bestows, Printup has made the most of his second undergraduate experience. A Haudenosaunee Promise Scholar, Printup plans to use his degree to ensure more Native Americans’ voices and stories are represented in film.
“My purpose for coming back to Syracuse as an older student was not that we don’t have Native people in film and media, but we’re very underrepresented and we’ve been largely invisible for a lot of years. I think right now with the environmental crisis that we’re in and the Earth right now, an Indigenous voice is needed in the landscape of film and media. I feel like part of my purpose is how can I infuse that in narrative film to expand how we look at the world or how we look at ourselves,” says Printup, who will address VPA’s graduates during the school’s convocation ceremony.
On this Commencement-centric ’Cuse Conversation, Printup reveals how he will make a difference as a film director, how the University’s well-rounded course load made him a better storyteller and why as soon as he walked into his first class at Syracuse, he knew he was where he was meant to be.
Printup, who says he had to venture outside his comfort zone and become fearless while making the difficult adjustment of going back to college later in life, also explores the documentary he produced on Native American boarding schools that served as a springboard to his current career path, and how he inspired his daughter, Yegunahareeta (Hareeta), to follow his lead and pursue her dreams as a fashion design student in VPA.
Check out episode 139 of the “’Cuse Conversations” podcast featuring Ruchatneet Printup ’23. A transcript [PDF] is also available.
01Describe for us the life-changing realization you had that convinced you to go back to school and apply to Syracuse University.
Part of the reason I got a job as a truck driver was because I could listen to podcasts, I could listen to things that stimulate my mind as I thought about expanding myself. I was really searching for what my next move would be. I’ve done a fair amount of meditation since I was in my 20s, and I was meditating, and it just came to me. It said, “You could go to Syracuse University and be a film director,” and instantly it was like a bell went off. It just felt right from that moment.
Going back to Syracuse would fast-forward my learning more about the craft and business of filmmaking. Within two weeks of applying, I was notified I had been accepted to Syracuse and that was the reaffirmation I needed that I was on the right track and that this is what I needed to do.
I knew right from my first day, when I walked into my first lecture, that I was on the right track. I knew instantly that the material we were looking at and what we were studying, it was like, “This is what I’ve been looking for.” It just had a completely different feeling than that first class I walked into when I was at RIT.
02In 2009, you co-produced a film, “Unseen Tears,” documenting the impact of state-run boarding schools on Native Americans. How did the project come to be, and how did this serve as a springboard for where you are now?
I was working for Native American Community Services in Buffalo, New York, a Native nonprofit, and our director, Michael Martin, said it might be interesting if we did a documentary on boarding schools. There really hadn’t been a whole lot of work around our history with boarding schools, and so I partnered with a graduate filmmaker from the University of Buffalo, Ron Douglas. We would interview these elders that had been to boarding school, or the children of parents who went to boarding school. And we quickly realized how heartbreaking these experiences were.
These heartbreaking stories exposed us to a lot of what these individuals went through and we realized quickly that this was a story that needed to be told. It was a very impactful documentary and it turned out to be helpful for educational purposes, to let people get some history on what had happened to our people and how it impacted us in ways we didn’t realize.
It was an emotionally impactful experience for me. I learned a lot about how our communities had coped with this history and how it affected our families, having a lot of our children not being raised with their parents while being conditioned to not feel good about their culture. It caused a lot of social issues for us, but I also commend the resiliency of these community members that came back and had to start that healing process.
03What kind of voice do you think you’ll bring and how do you think you can make a difference with Native American representation in film?
Our culture really stresses the interdependence that we have, not only amongst people but amongst the natural world as well. Finding creative ways to infuse that and finding storylines can be helpful as we move forward because we’re not going to do it alone. If we’re going to make any serious change with how we’re approaching our relationship to the Earth, it’s going to take all people.
I see narrative film as something I’ve really focused on at Syracuse, but I’ve also done a fair amount of documentaries. Documentaries are very accessible and they’re important to produce. That’s one thing about the education at Syracuse, you get a well-rounded education as a filmmaker. They teach you every aspect of filmmaking. You can specialize in a certain area, but you do get exposed to all aspects of it.
04What kind of message do you want to deliver to students during your convocation speech?
I certainly want to focus on pursuing what’s fulfilling to you. I think the abundance will come if you’re really in alignment because you’ll just work harder at what you love to do. As artists, we are kind of like the whistleblowers in a way. We have an obligation to talk about the environment, to talk about diversity, to talk about empowering women. Those are important issues. I think it’s also important to look at how we didn’t get here alone. Each one of us has a circle around us. We don’t achieve what we do without having people in our lives that have helped support us, mold us, encourage us and be our cheerleaders.
Note: This conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.