From student storytellers to student speakers

From student storytellers to student speakers

 Office of the Dean June 8, 2021

UCI literary journalism majors to speak at commencement

By Audrey Fong

Over the past two years, Sydney Charles and Tatum Larsen, both graduating literary journalism majors, have worked tirelessly to carve out a space for Black stories and storytellers on the University of California, Irvine campus, where Black students make up only 3% of the undergraduate population.

As co-founders and co-hosts of the podcast “Black Fam 2.5,” Charles and Larsen have interviewed scholars, activists and leaders in the Black community about a range of topics from Black love to Black Lives Matter. Through their web series “The Welcome Table with Sydney and Tatum,” they have shined a light on the accomplishments and pivotal moments in the lives of UCI’s Black faculty, students, staff and alumni. 

Now, the dynamic storytellers have a new broadcast assignment. On Saturday, June 12, Charles and Larsen will address the UCI campus virtually as the UCI School of Humanities’ student commencement speakers.

“I can't express how much of an honor it is to be the student speaker with Sydney,” Larsen says. “Never in a million years would I have thought that I would be in this position to give a speech to a crowd of incredibly talented, intelligent, bold and hardworking people. This year has been difficult for all of us in different ways and to be able to celebrate our class and be a part of ushering us into the next stage of our lives is something that is so special and sacred to me.”

When writing the speech, Charles and Larsen wanted to touch upon everything that the world has gone through in the past year. According to Charles, the speech will focus “on the struggles we've gone through as seniors during the 2020-2021 school year, like the pandemic and the social unrest that occurred during the summer of 2020.” They will also discuss how this graduation marks a transitional period for both them and their peers.

Faculty and staff mentorship has been a consistent theme in Charles and Larsen’s UCI story—something they will also touch upon in their speech. It was in fact literary journalism lecturer Amy DePaul who first introduced the pair two years ago, noting their shared passion for diverse stories. With her support and support from the Antrepreneur Center, Charles and Larsen launched the “Black Fam 2.5” podcast. Then last summer, the School of Humanities Dean’s Office hired the pair to lead a video interview series highlighting UCI’s Black scholars, which they named “The Welcome Table with Sydney and Tatum.” The series gained viewership and recognition from the UCI campus and beyond. Last winter, UCI’s Office of Inclusive Excellence took the series under the umbrella of its Black Thriving Initiative. Around the same time, the series won a Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) District VII gold award in the Communications Pivot category. Finally, this spring, Charles and Larsen went from interviewers to interviewees in an ABC 7 interview about their accomplishments with reporter Jessica De Nova.

“I didn't see myself as a podcaster or broadcaster until faculty and staff at UCI stepped in to support me and my creative endeavors,” Charles says. “My time here has given me the framework for my current life trajectory, and for that I will be forever grateful.”

As collaborators and best friends, Charles and Larsen will begin the next chapter of their story together. This fall, they will pursue a master’s in journalism at the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, bringing them a step closer to their dreams of becoming professional journalists.

“I couldn't be more excited for this new leg of the journey,” says Larsen. “I am so pleased with the projects Sydney and I started at UCI as they have readied us for the world beyond. I am not sure what the future has in store, but the UCI community has given me the confidence to move forward, so I am hopeful.”

Learn more about Charles and Larsen here and tune into their commencement speech at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 12 here.

Photo: @guramrit.art