“How does an English major turned lawyer end up at the VCU Brandcenter?”

A girl in black with long dark hair smiles while holding up a stuffed animal sloth puppet on a white background.

How does an English major turned lawyer end up at the VCU Brandcenter? The short of it: it’s complicated. The full story would take quite some time. And to be honest, I’m saving the juicy bits for my future memoir. Assuming my life amounts to something strangers would pay to read about. Kidding, but not. Dark humor.

The easiest way for me to explain my journey into advertising is to reflect on the series of red flags I experienced in my pre-Brandcenter life. There were a lot of red flags that practicing law was not my passion. However, because I was young and a little unsure of myself, I ignored them. For purposes of my story I’ll share the red flags that my family and friends have found most amusing.

Red flag #1:  My second year of law school, a Supreme Court Justice I won’t name came to visit my then school. I was too busy to go hear his lecture. However, a few weeks later when David Sedaris came to town to do a book reading from his latest work, I somehow was able to rearrange my schedule and attend. And wait in line. And get him to sign my book. You connect the dots.

Red flag #2: I completed several legal internships and clinics while in school.  A common thread united those experiences. They were rewarding. I was able to help people. I felt good. But, when the sun went down I would spend the evenings reflecting on the clients’ stories. They fascinated me. They fueled the inspiration for fictional short stories I would write in my free time. Usually after midnight.

Red flag #3: We’re going to fast forward here. I passed the bar exam and was sworn in as an attorney. Woot woot. It was official. A normal law school graduate would have applied for normal legal jobs. Shiny new license. Time to work and pay some student loans. Instead, I did everything in my power to avoid actually practicing law. Though, I did try. I just chose to apply for the kind of legal jobs that well let’s just say aren’t the norm. A legal position in Mongolia. Perfect, I’m not going to get it, but I’m going to apply anyway. A judicial clerkship in the Northern Mariana Islands. Hell yes, I love warm weather and have always wanted to scuba dive. Spoiler. I wasn’t hired for either of those positions, but eventually was picked up by the federal government. I worked for a few years at the State Department in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, not as an attorney, but still indirectly using my degree. It was a happy medium at the time.

Red flag #4: I was having brunch with a former mentor from my law school days and she asked me how I liked my job. I then proceeded to cry into a perfectly cooked omelet and insist “No, no, I’m fine. But yeah, it’s good.” I then excused myself to the bathroom and had a Matrix moment. There is no spoon. What was my truth? I was a closet creative. I loved writing. I loved watching commercials. I loved looking at the ads in magazines. I wanted to be in that world making that stuff. Why would I continue down a path I held no passion for?

Cue the VCU Brandcenter application. Why not? Looks fun. I can write.

So, here I am in the copywriting track. I’d be lying if I said that the program is easy. Can I say that? It’s hard. Really hard. I’ve been challenged in ways I never have been before: personally, professionally, academically, emotionally, mentally, physically, and financially. You name it, I’ve likely encountered it here.

But, you want to know something I haven’t encountered?

Red flags.

– Danielle Ciccolo, copywriting track, class of 2019

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