“Professor Fenske calls it “building steel,” and it’s the mark of a Brandcenter student.”

I stared at my shoes for a good half-hour while seated at the leg press machine in my parents’ gym when I got the acceptance email from the Brandcenter. I was waitlisted a month earlier, and the subject line read “APPLICATION STATUS UPDATE,” which at a glance felt like the digital equivalent of a small envelope from the admissions office.

The sinking feeling was familiar.

I had a career before this with some ups and downs. I’m a happy-go-lucky entertainer at heart, and I decided to switch from the burning hulk of journalism to the greener pastures of advertising. I worked with more interesting people, I won some awards as a newcomer and I even landed a job at an up-and-coming agency that made the shortlist at Cannes.

Fast-forward several years and I’m looking at a beat-up pair of Brooks trainers while literally in a daze from whatever brain chemicals cause vindication.

Ho boy, did I need this.

I won’t shy away from saying that life had been unkind to me in that interim — there were hard times before this, and those take a toll after a while. So, one can imagine I felt like I had something to prove at the Brandcenter, and I — um — maybe let that get in my head a little too much at times.

But that’s the point.

The Brandcenter represents not just a professional opportunity, but a personal one as well. Equanimity under a constant onslaught of adversity is one of the biggest lessons you can learn at this little carriage house in Richmond. Professor Fenske calls it “building steel,” and it’s the mark of a Brandcenter student. This place will make you the sort of person who can get hit over the head with a beer bottle and then buy the next round.

I’m happy to be here. The people are inspiring, the program is compelling and I haven’t for a moment thought I was being cheated of an education. Quite the opposite: I’m learning some of the most important lessons of my life.

-Jack McNamara, copywriting track, class of 2018