by Gabriel Hood
When I graduated from high school, it was the end of one chapter in my life and the beginning of a new one. The next chapter in my life was going to college. I was excited to start college because that would allow me to learn the craft of cinematic arts as well as surround myself with like minded people. Another motivation for me to go to college was my sister being the first in my family to be a college graduate. Because of that, my parents drilled in me the importance of education. In the course of almost 5 years, I have had a college journey that most people can only dream of, and it has made a big impact on my life.
In August of 2016, I enrolled in Houston Baptist University. When I began my freshman year, I was elated that I would meet people that would appreciate me for me. In fact, the first friend I made while attending HBU was Josef Junek. At first glance, we appeared to be the polar opposite, seeing as how I was enrolled in and graduated from public school, and he was homeschooled. But the more Josef and I got to know each other, the more I realized how much in common we had with one another. In fact, we both enrolled in HBU for a common goal: to pursue a degree in the cinematic arts. During my freshman year, we had a lot of classes together such as Intro to Video Production, Art of Storytelling, Media & Career Survey, and Collaboration & Communication. We truly bonded much outside the classroom as we did inside it as we worked on projects together classes. Even in the summertime, we kept in touch as I would share my screenplays with him.
As I was starting my college years, I promised myself that I would contribute to college life in any and every possible way that I could. So, I committed myself to various student clubs and activities on campus. The main student organization that made a strong impact on my life was the improv group Rex Fleming Players, alternatively called Verbal Winks. I first learned about the group within the first few weeks of my freshman year. One September afternoon during my freshman year, I was doing homework in the school library, and I happened to come across a flyer for a Rex Fleming show taking place that Friday night. Even better, the participants were cinematic arts students just like I was. So, I convinced my parents that I wanted to see my fellow classmates perform improv on stage.
That Friday night on September 29th , 2016, was my first time attending an improv show. I was immediately impressed at how my fellow cinema classmates performed. They did skits involving high school prom, love triangles, as well as the “Excuses, Excuses” game where a performer has to pretend to make an excuse for being late for work with help from an audience member. Another perk of attending an improv show was how interactive the performers were with the audience to the point that there was a particular improv game called Blind Line, in which the performers have to create a scene where they speak the lines that the audience members write, and they could be from one’s favorite movie, song, or TV show. That first show left me with such a strong impression, so I convinced my parents that I wanted to regularly attend these events.
After months of attending these Rex Fleming shows, it was time for me to register for my sophomore year. Among the classes that I signed up for, I made Rex Fleming as part of the electives that I wanted to take. I informed Josef that I was joining, and he felt that it was a cool idea because it would make me more active on campus. So, upon my return for sophomore year, I became a member of Rex Fleming, which changed its name to Verbal Winks. Initially, my main motivation for joining Verbal Winks was to gain some popularity around HBU. I had gone through bullying and ridicule in high school, and after surviving my high school experiences, I wanted to gain the respect of my peers in college.
For the first two months of my sophomore year, I put in weeks of practice to prove to my fellow performers that I had the skills to perform and entertain audiences. I was able to master the concept of improv, particularly in regards to such games as Excuses, Excuses and Blind Line. Before I had my first performance, I experienced being an audience volunteer for Excuses, Excuses during the first show of the fall semester of my sophomore year. I felt extremely proud in that moment because I figured that it would be a prelude to me performing in future improv shows. After the time and practice that I put in, I was finally ready to perform. On November 3rd, 2017, I ended up having my first performance as a member of Verbal Winks. In that performance, one part that stood out in my opinion was the improv game Foreign Film, in which the performers have to make up a fake language that’s not English. To pull it off, we created a skit resembling a foreign language drama to the amusement of the audience.
It was a defining moment in my life because I had finally managed to gain some popularity with my peers in college, and most importantly, find the acceptance that I had been craving since high school. I joined Verbal Winks to prove something to myself, and in that moment, I felt like I had accomplished my goal. I had finally solidified myself as a member of Verbal Winks, and my parents were very proud of me. Most importantly, I felt like I landed on cloud nine. My fellow performers enjoyed my performance so much, that led to me performing for the rest of the semester. My second performance was on November 10th , 2017. The standout of that performance was when I took a successful shot at the improv game Styles Remix. For Styles Remix, my peers and I acted out a skit where it was Thanksgiving, and we were a dysfunctional family. Furthermore, we acted it out in different genres like romance and tragedy. In the skit, I made jokes about listening to Taylor Swift and watching courtroom shows like Judge Judy.
I felt so confident in myself about finally building a reputation in college, then when it came time to return for the spring semester of my sophomore year, I did so continuing my membership with Verbal Winks. I had continued to perform with them every other Friday, and we even guest-performed for a philanthropy event held by a campus sorority known as Phi Lamb as well as for a comedy event at the University of Houston. At the end of my sophomore year, it was time for the elite dance team to have their performance event, and once again, Verbal Winks was slated to guest perform as part of a 5 minute interlude, for which I volunteered. Needless to say, I ended my sophomore year a very confident young man. What led to my confidence was my willingness to be active in college life as well as overcoming my painful experiences in high school. and I no longer felt like I needed to prove anything to anyone. I had finally solidified myself as a college student, and my experience with Verbal Winks encouraged me to expand my horizons even more.
I also took on a writer’s position in Satellite, HBU’s magazine for students, by students. Coincidentally, I was reunited with Josef, and he had already established himself there with his video essay, which was on Star Wars. On November 9th, 2018, Satellite had a sponsored event for our third issue known as Devotion. Josef had published his article on devotion to binge-watching the TV show Stranger Things on Netflix. Even though I hadn’t had anything published yet, I still came to the event to lend support as a new member of Satellite. He finished his tenue there with his published article about the music group Twenty-One Pilots, while I worked to establish myself by publishing articles on nostalgia in regards to entertainment and the importance of original creativity and social consciousness in film and entertainment. Josef and I also took a comedy class along with several of my Verbal Winks peers.
As a requirement of the comedy class, we were required to attend a Verbal Winks improv show even if some of us weren’t involved in the night’s performance. I was elated to know that Franklin was going to finally get his first taste of Verbal Winks improv because after all, he was the first one of my classmates that I had informed about joining. Although I wasn’t performing that night, I remained supportive of my peers, and I watched alongside Josef. After that, I was confident enough to introduce him to the behind the scenes of Verbal Winks improv in regards to how we practice and perform. One time, I practiced a variation of the improv game Movie Critic at home to his amusement as well as that of the group. For our final in the comedy class, I did a comedy sketch about the feud between Taylor Swift and Kanye West, Franklin tried out improv and asked for my assistance in his routine. I felt honored because he was the first friend that I made in college. I felt even more honored when he decided to join Verbal Winks because it meant that we would spend more time with each other outside of class.
When Franklin first joined Verbal Winks, I made sure that my peers made him feel welcome because I know how it feels not to feel appreciated. Granted, he knew most of my peers, but I wanted to make sure that he was treated with the same courtesy as they showed me. So far, my college experience has taught me that when you meet the right people, good things happen. The main lesson I learned from being in Verbal Winks taught how to truly value friendship and allowed me to become a confident young adult, while joining Satellite inspired me to be as productive as possible.
The impact that Verbal Winks has had on my life is that I made a dramatic transformation from being a harassed student in high school to a mature young adult in college that is passionate about my involvement in the group. There is no way I could imagine how my college journey would have been if I hadn’t joined. Joining Verbal Winks has helped me navigate through college easier as I surrounded myself with peers who shared similar interests, and most importantly, Josef became the brother that I never had. Overall, I will forever cherish the memories of my college journey at HBU.