More than 16,500 people enjoy RIT’s Brick City Homecoming & Family Weekend

Humans of New York founder tells students to take chances, don’t wait to pursue dreams




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A. Sue Weisler

Brandon Stanton, founder of the internet blog Humans of New York, was this year’s Student Government Horton Distinguished Speaker.

Don’t wait to follow your passion in life, even if you don’t think you are ready.

That was the message Brandon Stanton, founder of the internet blog Humans of New York, told thousands of visitors Saturday as Rochester Institute of Technology’s Student Government Horton Distinguished Speaker, a highlight of RIT’s three-day Brick City Homecoming & Family Weekend.

“People confuse following your dreams with not working,” Stanton said. “Following your dreams means nothing but hard work. It is to get to the place you can choose your work. Everyone can do it if they can commit to it and start before they are ready.”

Stanton, who began his blog six years ago with the intention of photographing 10,000 people, met with members of Student Government earlier in the day and answered their questions.

“Did you ever think it would get this big?”

“Humans of New York wasn’t the result of one idea that I executed,” Stanton said. “It was a commitment to myself to do the activity I love most and do it every day – to take pictures of people, then I added captions and interviewed people, and more people started following me. So it became the result of tiny evolutions that came as a result of the work. The goal was to make just enough money to do it all day long, not to make it a business. I wanted to increase the impact of the work, not the profitization.”

Stanton, whose two books about his blogs have been best sellers, hopes his next evolution will be in video. He’s already completed 1,200 video interviews and hopes for a television series to convey his interviews.

Bobby Moakley, a second-year environmental science and international/global studies major from Boston, asked how Stanton gets strangers to open up to him.

“That’s what I have been amazed at over time, why would people want to tell me these secrets about themselves?” Stanton said. “I just ask and become engaged with them. I ask them what is their greatest struggle? What do they feel most guilty about? Every interview goes in a different direction because I don’t have a list of questions.”

Stanton told the students that he jumped into what became his blog, now with more than 20 million Facebook and Instagram followers, because he wanted to devote his days to that work, even if some thought he wasn’t ready and wouldn’t become successful.

“You have to go after something like it is your job,” he said. “Risk-taking is a skill. Courage is a skill. The older you get, the bigger the consequence for taking a risk and failing is greater.”

Bailey Gribbon, a second-year computer information technology student from Levittown, N.Y., won a Student Government contest to meet Stanton. Gribbon, who has had several brain and spinal surgeries, said Stanton once featured his neurosurgeon in Humans of New York.

“I use your posts as my main inspiration to get me through the day,” Gribbon told Stanton, who later posed for a selfie with him.

Stanton’s talk was just one of more than 100 events during the weekend. More than 10,000 people packed the Blue Cross Arena in downtown Rochester Saturday to watch the men’s hockey team tie the University of Connecticut, 1-1. It was the seventh consecutive year the Brick City game has been sold out.

Two women’s hockey games were held against Union in the Gene Polisseni Center. The team lost Friday 0-2, and won Saturday 2-0.

Alex Ohanian, an internet entrepreneur and co-founder of Reddit, was the Gasser speaker for Saunders College of Business on Friday.

Also Friday was the 2016 Presidents’ Alumni Ball in the Gordon Field House, which honored RIT alumni Mike Krupniki ’99 and Sharon Napier ’04.

More than 800 guests visited the “Family Fun Zone,” which featured an array of arcade games set up in the Frank Ritter Memorial Ice Arena. Many also got to build and keep a stuffed tiger.

Classes Without Quizzes were popular and featured talks about game design, beekeeping, integrated photonics, Shakespeare, trips to RIT’s 6.5-acre solar panel farm, and more. Dueling Pianos, RIT Singers & Choral Singers, Concert Band, Jazz Ensembles and the African Percussion Ensemble entertained audiences throughout the weekend.

Jeanne Kentner Clarke, of Milwaukee, Wis., wore a large lapel button with her photo from the Class of 1966 and reconnected with others from her class celebrating their 50th anniversary of their graduation. She was amazed at RIT’s Henrietta campus and a bit jealous “the whole thing” today wasn’t there 50 years ago.

“Everything is just huge now compared to what it was then,” she said.

Note: Video available for this story