Zach Cohen on the American University quad on Saturday after graduating with a bachelor's degree.

Zach on the American University quad on Saturday after graduating with a bachelor’s degree.

After four years of sleepless nights and caffeine-induced days, I graduated magna cum laude from American University with a bachelor of arts in international studies from the School of International Service on Saturday. I also graduated with minors in communication, Spanish and theater.

It has been an incredible four years. As cliché as it sounds, it seems like yesterday when my parents dropped me off at the Sharjah Plaza outside SIS.

American University was never my first choice of college, but it has always been destined to be my home. With strong programs in international relations, journalism, theatre and political science, AU was on my mom’s radar before it was ever on mine. The first time I visited campus was during Snowpocalypse, so the little of campus we could see was buried in snow.

But AU quickly became my home. I enrolled in the University College for Theater, where I lived and studied with theater students under Professor Gail Humphries-Mardirosian, where we studied Aristotle’s Poetics, Greek theater, Shakespeare and so much more. I went to the Folger Shakespeare Library more times than I can count that semester, which started in the renowed Shakespeare library/theater by volunteering to clean up their space during the Freshman Service Experience.

In the brand new School of International Service building and throughout campus, I tackled the chief problems of the world in challenging courses such as:

  • “World Politics” with Professor Manuel Suarez-Mier. After the Honors graduation ceremony Friday, he showed me his program, where he had placed a check mark next to each one of his students. Professor Suarez-Mier offered a phenomenal entry point into the economic side of how the world works.
  • “Contemporary Media in a Global Society” with Professor Lois Romano, where I was introduced to the challenges of international media, including my first of many investigations into press censorship in Mexico.
  • “Media and U.S. Foreign Policy” and “Introduction to International Relations Research” with the wonderful Professor Elizabeth Cohn, who challenged me not just in academics but in the spelling of my last name.
  • “Analysis of U.S. Foreign Policy” with Professor Guy Ziv, who schooled me once or twice and challenged my preconceived notions of the implementation of IR theory in current events.
  • “International Economic Policy” with Professor Krista Tuomi, who demanded rigor in our understanding of economics and gave me the opportunity to study a subject near to my heart: the economics of newspapers.
  • “West & the Islamic World Post-9/11” with Professor Akbar Ahmed, for whom I completed my capstone on the differences between American-born and immigrant Muslims and their practice of Islam.

I never majored in journalism, contrary to the belief of half of the AU community. But I did get the opportunity to take some great classes in the School of Communication, including:

  • “Politics, Campaigns and the Media” with Professor Richard Benedetto, for whom I wrote an Honors supplement on the distinct similarities between the 2004 and 2012  presidential elections.
  • “Writing/Editing for Convergent Media” with Professor Amy Eisman, where we created our own newsroom and produced an journalistic report on the lives of millennial veterans.
  • “Legal Aspects of Communication” with Professor Cori Zarek. Because of that class, I know my rights as a journalist, and I treasure that summer for it.
  • “Media and Democracy in Latin America” with Professor Rick Rockwell. Rick has since become not just my professor and not just my producer. But I consider him a friend. I wish him the best of luck in his new adventures as he leaves AU this summer.
  • “Foreign Correspondence” with Professor Bill Gentile. If I ever give myself the opportunity to work overseas, I will have all the tools I need at my disposal to succeed thanks to him and wonderful guest speakers like Hannah Allam and Carmen Gentile.

I’ll always have a place in my heart for theater. My acting classes with Professors Javier Rivera and Carl Menninger not only made me a better actor, but they allowed me to better understand myself. In “Introduction to Stage Design” with Professor Meghan Raham, I learned the finer points of composing images that stir the heart and mind, concepts that I have sought to achieve in my own visual work. Eventually I stopped taking notes in “Theatre History I” with Professor Sybil Roberts because her intellect was so far beyond normal human understanding. I always left that class pondering both theater and life as well as the relationship between the two. I worked the light board for a production of “The Who’s Tommy” and climbed on ladders to hang lights in the Greenberg Theatre, even when that meant being suspended 50 feet over the orchestra pit.

In “Masterpieces of Music” with Professor Marc Medwin, who introduced me to Bach and John Cage, for better or for worse.

I read Homeric epics late into the night in order to prepared for the next day’s class.

I worked with classmates (and my future roommate) to understand the mind-bending, theoretical concepts in “Great Ideas in Mathematics” with Professor Matthew Konicki.

And let’s not forget “Understanding Media” with Professor Rodger Streitmatter, “Physics for the Modern World” with Professor Teresa Larkin, “Writing for Mass Communication” with Professor Lymari “FOMO” Morales, and many more.

Turner’s David Aldridge often jokes that he “majored in Eagle” when he was at AU.

I agree wholeheartedly. The newsroom of The Eagle, American University’s student newspaper, was my learning laboratory. I learned the finer points of interviewing sources, building beats, research, AP Style and just a dash of crisis management, both in terms of editorial controversy and budgetary overhaul.

I count the journalists in that room as my closest friends, and I’m incredibly proud of what we accomplished together there. While there were plenty of times I should have spent more time out of that room and in the library working on the classes mentioned earlier, I don’t regret a second. I relished the opportunity to teach and learn the art and science of journalism.

When I wasn’t in the newsroom or classroom, I was usually on stage. Dime a Dozen, AU’s co-ed a capella group, was a place for me to sing my heart out, albeit usually in walking bass lines.

I acted in both mainstage and student-run productions, including a children’s musical about the Holocaust, a less-well-known Tennessee Williams play by the name of “Orpheus Descending,” and two Shakespeare plays (“Macbeth” and “Julius Caesar,” the former of which we performed in the garage of the Katzen Arts Center for just a spice of ominous echo).

I’m left not knowing a lot of things, like if my tuition was really worth it. I definitely never did all the homework or get every question right.

But I do know that AU has set me on the right track for a life of learning. I’ve got a bookshelf filled with books I’ve collected over the years, and I know who to turn to online and off for the best information.

Most importantly, the innumerable friends I’ve made have left an indelible mark on my life, and I’m so lucky to have met them. I’ll never forget the late night walks on the National Mall and conversations about everything over pizza and leftovers.

I’m lucky to have a liberal arts education, built from literal blood, sweat and tears. In pixels and ink, I have spilled more words than I care to count. Here’s to hoping I learned something in the process.

I’m nothing but ecstatic for what comes next.

Once an Eagle, always an Eagle.