"One day I woke up and realized that all of these quote-unquote successes I've had in my life were not fulfilling me or bringing me joy. In fact, it was making me feel like I was not on the path that I needed to be." – Cate Boram '20
After graduating from Amherst Regional High School, Cate Boram spent the next 10 years building a successful and award-winning career in advertising. Though she had studied theater in college for a time, she did not complete her degree.
Nevertheless, she was earning a good living. She had marketable skills and experience, a solid resumé. After so many years, she didn't need to go back to college. But she wanted to.
"I was working in an industry helping to get the rich richer and basically selling what doesn't need to be sold to consumers, and that really goes against my values," the 30-year-old Holyoke resident recently said. "Despite that I had worked really hard to get to where I was in my career, one day I woke up and realized that all of these quote-unquote successes I've had in my life were not fulfilling me or bringing me joy. In fact, it was making me feel like I was not on the path that I needed to be."
To help find her way, Boram enrolled at Holyoke Community College, and that made all the difference.
Boram graduated this spring with her associate degree in Communication, Media and Theater Arts and was one of the valedictorians from the Class of 2020. That means she completed her degree with A's in all her classes and a perfect GPA of 4.0.
This fall, she will begin studying theater and film at Smith College in Northampton.
"I knew that I wanted to be a storyteller," Boram said. "While I had spent my career telling stories of brands and products in a way that resonates with consumers, I wanted to try to shift that into non-commercial work – storytelling that helps people understand each other more, be more empathetic and kind, and also helps them to be more imaginative and visionary."
Aside from advertising, Boram, who was born in Seoul, Korea, translates poetry for KoreanLit, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit, and she has long been involved in community theater as both an actor and stage manager. She had initially planned to concentrate in theater at HCC. On the advice of her HCC advisor, theater professor Tim Cochran, however, she switched to CMTA – an integrated studies program that includes courses in communications, electronic media and theater.
"I told him about my background and what I was looking to do, and that's when he recommended the CMTA program because it had a mixture of basically everything I was looking for," said Boram.
With the credits she was able to transfer from her previous college, Boram knew she wouldn't be at HCC long and was determined to make the most of it.
"I came in thinking, okay, I am going to take this year and study the things that I am interested in, and give myself permission to embrace different passions and interests in order to create ways to connect and utilize them all in my personal and professional life," she said.
Over a single, accelerated academic year, she took 11 courses including script analysis, creative writing for theater, painting, oceanography, statistics, sociology, and two in particular that proved pivotal: Introduction to Animation with professor Jay Ducharme and Introduction to Videography with professor Joe Saphire.
"Jay not only taught us the foundational knowledge of animation, the technical aspects, he really focused on the elements of storytelling – plot points and storyboards – and pushed people to think more creatively and critically about the story they wanted to tell."
In videography, Prof. Saphire didn't just teach students how to use a camera.
"It wasn't all technical," Boram said. "We explored different video art forms and the history of video art, and he really pushed us to go into places where we were uncomfortable, and I think that really helped me break out of the shell that I feel like I was carrying around with me."
For her work in both those courses, she received the HCC award for Excellence in Electronic Media for 2020, even though, as an advertising producer, she had had no hands-on experience in the creative side of the industry.
"Cate was one of the most inquisitive, dedicated and hard-working students I've ever had the pleasure of teaching," said Ducharme, who retired after the spring semester. "She exhibited remarkable originality and creativity. Her video projects were visually stunning and her animations fascinating, displaying a wry sense of humor. She reminded me of why I chose to be a teacher, for the joy of seeing a student assimilate and apply new knowledge in such a personal and inventive way."
At Smith, Boram says she plans to study a variety of mediums so she can incorporate different elements into her work and push the boundaries of traditional storytelling.
"With COVID, we've seen already theater groups all around the world and the creative ways they are putting on productions and sharing stories," Boram said. "I think theater will give me the foundational knowledge I need to create impactful stories, and the film aspect will help me make those stories accessible to more people."
STORY by CHRIS YURKO, PHOTO: Cate Boram, courtesy of Cate Boram