Photographer Billy Foshay, CSOM ’16, will meet up with writers on their way to class, requesting they shoot at the students’ favorite spots. Most times, they’ll arrive with a sign already written—other times, the photoshoot is slightly sidetracked as they search for a black marker and looseleaf paper. Foshay positions his camera, and then the signs come out. “Mental illness,” “body image,” “masculinity,” they read. “On humility,” “passion,” “breaking bread,” “don’t ever give up.”
The photos will be taken, the paper signs then packed away to a book bag or thrown in the trash. That word or phrase again is hidden from Boston College, if only for a day, as these students carry on to class. Left with pictures, Foshay wonders what the story will be.
The first Authentic Eagles piece premiered in the January of 2014. Published by The Gavel, a BC publication focusing on online and magazine journalism, the ongoing column is predominantly curated content: these reflections focus on a topic of the writer’s choosing.
The brainchild of Mike Izzo, BC ’14, and Jenna LaConte, then-editor-in-chief of The Gavel and also BC ’14, the series was born out of their experience as talk partners at the University’s 48 Hours retreat. Since the concept’s inception in November of 2013, Authentic Eagles has featured the reflections of over 50 BC students and faculty. Visually, the series is the work of photographers Jono Keedy, A&S ’16, and Foshay.
The Gavel now publishes Authentic Eagles on a twice-weekly basis, the editing responsibility passed on to Teddy Raddell and Carolyn Griesser, both A&S ’15, at the end of last semester. First imagining the series, however, Izzo had little idea that it would endure past his time at BC. He started small with a set of 10 reflections.
“I was able to shape this image of this image of myself at BC as this alpha-male, athlete whatever, when in reality, that’s not who I was at all.”
Izzo was never an athletic kid. In high school, he was an Eagle scout and dancer, specializing in ballet, hip-hop, and couple. Coming to BC from Wyomissing, Penn., he found himself fitting in with a circle of varsity athletes, and exceptional ones at that, nearly superhuman in their accomplishments. He joined the men’s crew team in September of 2009, and while the sport did require endurance, it did not make Izzo think of himself as “athletic,” per se. Quickly, however, he noticed others looking at him quite differently.
“I was able to shape this image of this image of myself at BC as this alpha-male, athlete whatever, when in reality, that’s not who I was at all,” Izzo said. “It didn’t feel right—I was definitely off.”
Serving as an orientation leader the summer before his senior year, Izzo considered himself to be exposed to the dynamic of vulnerability missing from his first three years at BC. From there, he went on to be a facilitator at 48 Hours, a retreat offered to freshmen at BC through the Office of First Year Experience. It was after collaborating with LaConte for his 48 Hours talk that the concept of Authentic Eagles started coming together.
“Personally, I was horrible at writing, and secondly, I was pretty bad at reflecting,” Izzo said. “I was bad at articulating my experiences, so just being able to talk to her was amazing: I was finally able to put down in words what my experiences meant to me.”
Izzo saw it as problematic that BC freshmen were first exposed to questions of authenticity at 48 Hours, in many cases months into their first year. At that point in his own college career, Izzo recalled, he’d already moved away from the person he was in high school, giving up on activities like volunteering and dance, which once meant a lot to him.
After 48 Hours, Izzo approached LaConte about publishing a reflection series in The Gavel, sharing some of the talks their co-leaders wrote, as well as some of the freshmen’s reflections. At first, she was skeptical about whether the idea would catch on.
Out of coincidence, a good friend of Izzo and LaConte happened to submit a reflection to The Gavel for consideration—he hadn’t heard of the Authentic Eagles concept yet. “Jenna took it as a sign,” Izzo said.
The author of this piece was Ryan Galvin, BC ’14. Published as the fifth installment of the Authentic Eagles series, his reflection “On Mental Illness” went on to become the foundation for the UGBC’s Be Conscious campaign on mental health.
The feedback Authentic Eagles got when Izzo and LaConte launched it that January was far greater than they expected, with feedback circling back to The Gavel both from current students, as well as places well outside of BC. The series also went on to be used as material for several University classes.
“The response was overwhelming,” Izzo said. “At the bottom of it, it made me realize people do want to be authentic, and all it took was a few people writing their own stories.”
“Tell it through a story.”
Raddell and Griesser have a “show, don’t tell” approach to Authentic Eagles. They edit lightly, keeping away from the core of the story, but they do encourage writers to take on a narrative style.
“Most of our suggestions are for the writer to take on more of a specific story, giving examples, making it more about themselves,” Griesser said.
“Tell it through a story,” Raddell said. “Give an example of when you saw heroes in your life.”
Izzo left it to current Gavel editor-in-chief Emily Akin, A&S ’15, to determine the future of Authentic Eagles after he and LaConte graduated. The series was ultimately continued, the responsibility passed along to Raddell and Griesser. The two new Authentic Eagles editors knew Izzo from their experience as orientation leaders, but were new to editing and The Gavel when they took on the positions.
“I think it’s hard being authentic from day-to-day, and maybe it will be limited to a small 4Boston sharing or Authentic Eagles piece,” Griesser said. “But those places are a good start to continue the conversation in a larger setting.”
“Like tipping the pizza guy or living the dream—not necessarily a struggle, but an authentic piece of them.”
Moving forward, Griesser and Raddell have plans to hand over Authentic Eagles to a new pair of editors in January, fully moving out of the roles by February. In their remaining time as editors, they hope to make it their legacy to diversify the column more.
“It’s been a lot of people who are kind of similar,” Raddell said. “A lot of 4Boston, Arrupe, orientation leaders so far. We want to get more voices that are different: different voices, different classes.”
Authentic Eagles was loosely based off NPR’s “This I Believe” series, according to Griesser, a collection of soundbites on often-mundane, everyday events. Griesser mentions an interest in having the column hone in on some smaller matters, as well as the bigger ones.
“Our goal for this year, as well as our goal in the future, is not just to have stories of hardships and struggles and traumatic events that people have gone through, but also the day-to-day things,” Griesser said. “Like tipping the pizza guy or living the dream—not necessarily a struggle, but an authentic piece of them.”
“When I schedule a shoot, I’m like, ‘where’s your favorite place at BC,’ and sometimes, the response is why don’t you just pick for me? And I can’t.”
Izzo looks back at his time with Authentic Eagles. Now a medical student at Temple University in Philadelphia, he sees the series as a window into the culture at BC.
“It gave me a great sense of pride in the BC community, because people do want to be vulnerable—that’s something I learned doing this series,” Izzo said. “That’s a testament to how many people have written, but even more so, how many people have had conversations that were very, very difficult.”
Foshay will scroll through his Facebook newsfeed the next morning, looking for the faces he photographed the day before.
“On Facebook and any kind of social media, you have these very surface-level, status pictures, smiling at a party,” Foshay said. “It’s such a good thing for social media, because it’s sharing something really different from what’s already out there.”
He’ll see the person he photographed, the photo, the sign. And often, he’ll see a person he might have missed.
Featured Image by John Wiley / Heights Editor