John RitiSeptember 22, 2020
John Riti’s love of reading and writing led him to both the English and Communication Departments at Truman State. From planning campus events with the Student Activities Board to spending Kirksville summers as an Orientation Leader, John’s Bulldog pride has only increased over time! After graduating, John wrote for both Paste Magazine, an entertainment magazine based in Atlanta, GA, and Gateway Blend, a global digital media company based in St. Louis, MO. He’s currently the copywriter and editor at Build-A-Bear Workshop World Headquarters in St. Louis. When he’s not with the bears, John enjoys reading, running and finding ways to travel cheaply.
What year did you graduate and what was your concentration?
I graduated in 2014. Plot twist: I was actually an English major (American literature concentration) and a Communication/Film Studies minor. If I could do it again, I would definitely add COMM as a second major – there is a lot of overlap between the two areas of study and they complement each other perfectly.
What extra-/co-curricular activities did you do?
I was on the Student Activities Board (SAB) all four years. One of my favorite SAB memories was picking up comedian Hannibal Buress from the airport. He hadn’t packed for the cold Kirksville weather, so we all went to the bookstore to get him a Truman State sweatshirt…I hope he still wears it! I was also a team leader in the Union and Involvement Services office (I had to look that up because back in my day it was called the CSI: Center for Student Involvement). I was also a member of Alpha Phi Omega, a Student Advisor in Ryle Hall, a columnist for the Index newspaper and an Orientation Leader for three summers (best summer job ever).
Did you go to grad school? If so, where? Was it immediately after you left Truman or did you wait? Why?
I did not go to grad school. Like many graduates, I was eager to venture outside of the classroom at the time – but you never know, I still haven’t ruled it out.
What was your first job after graduation?
My first job after graduation was an editorial internship with Paste Magazine, a digital entertainment magazine headquartered in Atlanta, GA. I wrote entertainment news articles, reviews and essays for their website. A highlight of that experience was when Joan Didion shared a Paste article of mine on her Facebook page – she’s one of my literary heroes. Shout out to Professor Smith and his awesome COMM 350: Media Criticism course for helping me land that internship.
What work do you do/What are you doing now?
I am currently a copywriter and editor on the marketing team at Build-A-Bear Workshop Headquarters in St. Louis, MO. Your St. Louis trivia for the day: the first-ever Build-A-Bear opened in St. Louis in 1997, and now there are over 400 locations around the world. As a copywriter, I collaborate with our team of designers to create a wide range of marketing materials for our digital verticals and retail locations worldwide. I also work with our production and web teams to help name products and create engaging PDP displays for e-commerce. Through Build-A-Bear, I’ve also been able to write branded copy for licensed partners such as Disney, Marvel, DC Comics, Hasbro, Warner Bros., DreamWorks and Nintendo. The projects are wide-ranging and it’s a lot of fun!
How has your Liberal Arts/COMM education helped you?
In virtually every aspect! I write all day for my job, so the emphasis on writing and critical thinking has helped me immensely. I’m also grateful that both my COMM and English coursework allowed me to channel my creativity. So much of working in marketing (especially for a children’s brand) is finding creative solutions to problems and brainstorming engaging concepts. Above all, I’m grateful to my Liberal Arts/COMM education for encouraging me to be engaged, keep an open mind and learn new things.
I had no idea where my career path would take me – being a copywriter was never my plan, but my education from Truman gave me the versatile skill set to succeed when an unexpected career opportunity presented itself. In a world that changes quickly, I believe a liberal arts education sets you up to adapt and succeed.
Which class did you dislike at the time you took it, but now you’re grateful you took it?
I remember dreading COMM 170: Public Speaking at the time. Like most students, the thought of standing up and giving speeches didn’t thrill me. But even by the end of that semester, I remember being surprised at how much I enjoyed it. To this day, I still remember key points I learned in that course. When you’re in a board meeting, giving a presentation or even just on a call with a small group of people, being able to speak effectively and communicate ideas confidently is a huge asset. Special thanks to the late Professor Weitz of the COMM Department for making that class memorable and sharing knowledge which I still remember and use.
What was your greatest accomplishment at Truman?
Serving as the President of the Student Activities Board my senior year. It meant a lot being elected by my peers and I was very proud of the work we did and the events/talent we brought to campus. It’s not easy bringing big names to a small town like Kirksville and we had some awesome events. The fee-based organizations at Truman have a huge responsibility to serve the students and spend the students’ money in a responsible manner. They work hard to make campus an exciting place to be. I’m very proud to have served on SAB and I encourage all students to find an organization they’re passionate about – it will truly change your college experience for the better.
Why is Truman a good place for a student to study?
An affordable liberal arts education and a smaller-sized campus/student body were both important factors for me, so Truman was the perfect choice for me when deciding where to study. Truman provides the opportunity for every student to find meaning in their college experience. Whether it’s through academics, work opportunities, campus involvement or social experiences, you’ll find something valuable in your four (or more!) years here. The experience is different for everyone, which is why it’s so special. The underlying common factor is that Truman helps you learn, explore and challenge yourself – the rest is what you make of it!
What would you say a COMM student should absolutely do while at Truman?
Visit your professor during their office hours. Even if you don’t need help with anything. They are experts in their field and getting to know them and building relationships with them is a very fulfilling experience.
What advice would you give someone who wants to go into the same line of work as you?
Read and write as much as you can. Find ways to create a portfolio of work that you can point to and proudly say, “I did that!” Take advantage of having an academic advisor and a Career Center full of trained professionals eager to help you succeed. For example, I wanted to expand my portfolio of published writing samples but wasn’t sure where to begin. My advisor encouraged me to consider The Index and I applied to be an opinions columnist. Having those published writing samples proved to be very helpful when applying for internships and jobs.
What do you miss most about campus/Kirksville?
I miss the sense of community that comes with being on campus and in Kirksville. Living and learning in a small town like Kirksville is very special. I miss living with all my closest friends in the same house or just a few blocks away. Can I say that I miss DuKum Inn? Because I miss DuKum Inn! I miss ALL the local restaurants and Thousand Hills as well.
What tag line would you create for the COMM department at Truman?
Okay, I do this for a living so I can’t mess this up! Hmmm – maybe “COMM One, COMM All!” Sorry, not my best work.
If you could come back to Truman and teach a class for a semester, what would be its title and what would it be about?
I read a lot of Patti Smith during quarantine. I love her books and music. I think a course studying her work would be perfect for a liberal arts school because she’s a well-rounded cultural figure who has dabbled in a little bit of everything: she’s a musician, writer, poet, activist and visual artist. I’d call the course “Studying Barefoot: The Words of Patti Smith.”
What did we not ask that you think is important for people to know?
Time flies! Sorry for using a cliché, but they exist because they’re true! Your time at Truman will go very fast, so I think it’s important to dive in and make the most of it. Try new things, meet new people, challenge yourself, learn as much as you can and enjoy every second. Also, every student should spend at least one summer living in Kirksville. It will make you appreciate the town in new ways.
If you would like to learn more of John’s story, you can follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or GoodReads.