Caroline Carlson (United States, WK 87-92)
What years did you attend Waterford Kamhlaba? (What forms/year group?)
Form 3 (87) – IB 2 (92)
Please tell us what you have done or are doing at the moment? (e.g.. what you studied and what field you are currently working in)
I am the Vice President of a start-up social media marketing agency.
What inspired you to pursue your career path?
After WK, I went to Mount Holyoke College and majored in Neuroscience and Behavior. During my time there, I found a passion for learning and graduated with a firm understanding of how to write well, argue my position, speak in large groups, take on leadership roles, find the courage to pursue interests and explore topics, accept change and adjust for it. After I graduated, I was hired as an Assistant Director for Undergraduate Admissions at Mount Holyoke which spurred an interest in marketing. I remained in college admissions, was promoted to leadership teams within marketing, until I became pregnant with my first son. My career path switched to freelance writing and contract work while chasing down diaper-clad little boys and carting them to library time. During those years, social media and blogging were just evolving. As a mom at home longing to use my brain for more than just nursery rhymes, it was an exciting way to express my thoughts, network with others and brand myself. In time I developed a personal blog as a political and parenting platform which opened up the door to many exciting brand marketing opportunities. I travelled when possible, covered lobbying efforts against drug abuse in Washington DC, covered Fashion Week in NYC and met extraordinary brand leaders, bloggers and marketing influencers. These experiences and networking opportunities brought me to my current position at a start-up social media marketing agency where I have been for 8 years. I am currently the Vice President for the company and enjoy connecting with brands, leading a fantastic team, managing social ad campaigns and providing the best service we can for our clients.
Did Waterford in any way play a role in your career path choice?
Waterford plays a role in my life every single day. WK taught me discipline and to make studies and learning a priority always. It taught me to keep my mind open to opportunities and to never close myself into one category. It truly instilled a critical progressive perspective in all that I do, a call to value diversity and differences in every person and culture. During a very challenging time in the US, I stand firm in my values and pass those to my children. It taught me to listen and hear others, and that I have a responsibility to lead and use education for positive change. I will never forget the lessons I learned during my years there.
Online technology and digital marketing change all the time. It is an area one needs to work in daily to gain experience. I would encourage students who are interested in social media or digital marketing to get their basics covered first. Write well. Learn how to speak well in public so that you can interact with clients confidently. Understand how to position your thoughts on behalf of a brand. Prepare yourself for change, learn to think critically so that you can adjust your plan if needed. Learn to problem-solve. Also, embrace your creative side, don't underestimate the value of creative, original thinking which translates into strong content and image design! Then dive into the field, get experience, learn on the fly but stay humble. This area is very fluid and just when you think you're an "expert" in the field, the field changes. But if your basics are strong, you can handle the change and remain ahead of the game.
Do you have any fond memories of Waterford? Could you possibly share one with us and could we also ask you to send us one or two pictures of your time at WK?
I don’t have all of my photos with me but my fondest memories are afternoons in the art room with our small group of IB higher students and Ramila Patel. I also loved our art trips. What a luxury – to be able to create art over two years while learning the stories of other artists during a very tumultuous time in South Africa. When I arrived in SD, Nelson Mandela was still in prison with no hope (I thought) of release. When I left, he was about to become president. Creativity and inspiration abounded then. And I still find that in difficult political times, art tells the story and represents some of the most effective ways to protest. I miss the hills, I miss the humour, I miss the learning, I miss the extraordinary experience of living ordinary days with so many different cultures and backgrounds. What a gift.
One other memory – doing the musical The Fantasticks. Great fun! Almost entirely student-run, we had a wonderful time.
Most embarrassing moment at Waterford?
Too many to list, but am I alone?
What’s your favourite '90s jam?
I was obsessed with The Best of UB40. I found a love for Bob Marley there. Oh and Mango Groove! There were so many great Hip hop and R&B songs then, I am fairly sure the whole school was doing the running man and wearing pleated, high-waisted stone-washed jeans and bright primary colours. Lots of perms, scrunchies and high tops.
Who was in your WK #squad (friend group)?
Natalie Hickel, Louise Pettit, James Coats were some of my closest friends then. But I loved my whole class, all wonderful people. I would give anything to get together with ALL of them again, including those who have passed such as Tessa Vriend.
Favourite teacher/Most hilarious teacher?
Mick my English teacher was funny, a great teacher. Ramila was wonderful and patient. I still think of tips she taught me when I paint. Mr O'Conner was very funny, great performer both in the classroom and out – I was a terrible French student, he was very patient too.