ohn Walsh lived in a small apartment on South Street during his junior year, tucked away from the hotspots on Foster and Gerald Street. Looking at the quaint apartment building with blue awnings, there were no bars on anyone’s windows. No one locked their three deadbolts before leaving for class, and there were no alarms or guards waiting at the door. No tenant there could imagine being the victim of a home invasion.
It was still the fall semester when Walsh’s apartment was wiped clean. Within a single night, he and his roommates lost pretty much everything they owned—TVs, laptops, cash, watches, you name it.
“Our laundry quarters were probably the worst part,” Walsh, CSOM ’17, said, half-laughing, half-grimacing at the memory.
A little lost, a little confused, and now very broke, Walsh and the guys searched their room for any personal possessions that may have been missed or passed over. The roommates spent the night searching through their picked-clean apartment, opening cupboards and drawers, looking for something of value left behind.
The only thing that had been tossed to the side was something that Walsh hadn’t picked up in almost a year: his Sony Camcorder. While Walsh had lost most of the physical things that mattered to him that afternoon, the small, old, “super-cheap” video camera gave Boston College’s soon-to-be star videographer something new to care about.
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Walsh didn’t grow up with an affection for art or an interest in snapping photos—he was an athlete. As a kid, his schedule consisted of basketball practices and baseball games. He was always the star of his soccer and Little League teams, and went on to play three varsity sports in high school. His brother, James, recalls his childhood with John—shooting hoops in the yard for hours on end, or hanging out on the couch playing Madden.
Put simply, Walsh was a jock.
“It’s funny because if you ask my mom, she would have never expected this,” Walsh said.
Walsh’s mother, on the other hand, did have a knack for photography. He recalls her lugging a camera to each of his basketball, baseball, and soccer games, standing on the sideline and following him up and down the court. He never really paid much attention to her hobby throughout his teenage years, often shaking her off as she showed him her latest action shots.
In the spring of 2013, Walsh was admitted to the Carroll School of Management. From the moment he received his acceptance letter, Walsh thought that he had his college career pretty much figured out. He would get a degree in accounting, play some intramurals along the way, and land a job in finance by graduation—following the path of the typical “ex-athlete.”
Instead, he got dragged to Agape Latte.
On just the third day of his sophomore year, a friend convinced Walsh to tag along to the first meeting of the year. The group was discussing strategies for how it might spread the word about Espresso Your Faith week. While some underclassmen might have been too timid to partake, Walsh did not let his new-kid nature keep him from speaking up.
The sophomore raised his hand and proposed that the group make a music video. His idea caught on fast. Within three days, Walsh started filming.
But before they could focus on procuring footage, Karen Kiefer, the associate director of the C21 Center, and Walsh needed a song. They wanted something that would convey the message of the week: “shaking off” worries, fears, and insecurities. They realized Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” was the easy choice.
Walsh traveled around campus for the project. He filmed an economics class in Devlin 008, recorded dance groups practicing, and captured would-be studiers dancing on tables in Bapst. Students, professors, and administrators all ended up contributing to the video.
“That’s what introduced me to the fact that BC is a special community,” Walsh said. “People are willing to go out of their comfort zones and be a part of something bigger than themselves.”
His first published compilation came together, and rose to the national stage. Not only was it a hit with BC students over Facebook, but it also caught Swift’s eye when she tweeted at BC, thanking students for their work.
He might have settled back down after that experience to follow the prescribed CSOM path after all. He could bask in his five minutes of fame and brag about the T-Swift shoutout at the Mods every weekend till Commencement. But then he got robbed.
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Christmas 2015 snuck up on Walsh almost faster than finals after the break-in that fall. He was still in recovery mode, and far too short on cash to buy his mother a Christmas gift. Down to the wire, completely broke, and desperate for something meaningful to stick under the tree, Walsh decided to use the only resource left—that tossed-to-the-side, undesired camcorder.
Walsh rallied his siblings, aunts, and uncles to create a one-of-a-kind Christmas movie for his mother. He featured some candid shots of the family around the house, a couple quick interviews on “What Mom means to you,” and compiled the clips into his mother’s dream gift. The last-minute medley has now become a tradition in the Walsh household. Walsh spent even more hours compiling the 2016 “Walsh Christmas video,” which debuted on Christmas Day.
“He combined his passion and saved me some money on Christmas gifts, so thanks John,” James Walsh said.
All in all, it was a huge success for Walsh. The film-bug had finally gotten him after that first Christmas, and he knew how to satiate his new desire and record the stories happening in front of his eyes. He went and looked up the man who had created a “Happy” video at BC, the inspiration for Walsh’s first viral hit. Sean Casey, BC ’12, had graduated and become the senior creative director for the Office of University Communications.
Walsh and Casey set a time to go film together in the small, black box theater in Robsham. Walsh was eager to learn formal technique, and Casey was willing to share.
In the midst of shooting on set, Casey turned to Walsh and asked if he was familiar with the “f-stop.” Walsh nodded yes eagerly and was sent to work. It wasn’t for another five or 10 minutes that Walsh turned to Casey apologizing profusely and said:
“That means nothing to me, I know nothing about what you just said.”
This was the last time Walsh failed to ask Casey for clarification.
Walsh and Casey’s relationship was founded off question and answer—Casey describes Walsh as the “kid with a thousand questions.” Throughout the last two years, Casey has been coaching Walsh on technique and lingo, but Walsh has kept bringing ideas to the table.
The two guys will sit and scroll through Vimeo for hours on end, looking for new shots, angles, and techniques. Walsh is known for walking into Casey’s office on a Friday afternoon, just to drop off tape, and ends up chatting for hours.
“He’s made me late for quite a few dates in my life,” Casey said while laughing about their Friday afternoon chats.
He still turns to Casey for approval, even if he has already made the permanent shift from “John the jock” to “John the film kid.” With two and a half weeks to go until his graduation, his name has become well-known on campus. There are few places that you could turn to avoid a “John Walsh project.”
He has worked with dozens of on-campus groups ranging from Agape Latte, to Asinine Sketch and Improv Comedy, to just about every dance group imaginable. He has become the guy that every student or group turns to when they are in need of a video. It doesn’t matter whether they need a commercial, satirical, or serious film—Walsh has proven that he can do it all.
He has gone on to work with the Women’s Center to promote Embrace Your Body Week, and Boston College Dance Marathon to document the annual event. John Robert Scordino, Asinine president and MCAS ’17, has even named Walsh an “honorary member” of the comedy group—though the fact he and Walsh share a room in Rubenstein Hall probably didn’t hurt.
“Walsh has been big in showing the group the potential of what digital marketing can do for us,” Scordino said. “We saw a big increase in audience at the shows and even just people talking around campus.”
Walsh works closely with Casey and the Office of University Communications to make promotional videos for BC. The footage that he has contributed over the last year has been instrumental in bringing media attention to the University. His videos still go viral on Facebook, averaging around 30,000 views.
While most students were building snowmen, having snowball fights, or catching up on schoolwork during Winter Storm Niko this past February, Walsh spent the day off from school doing something that was just typical John: filming. Out on the quad and in the Mods, with his camera in tow, Walsh stood as a bystander—a storyteller—rather than a participant. The video that he produced that day has been viewed on Facebook over 111,000 times.
Walsh currently has 23 videos published on his online portfolio, including commercials, music videos, narratives, and BC promotional videos. But his time doesn’t need to be formally contracted. Walsh jumps around, also shooting for professors, athletes, his buddies. He has come through for really whoever has asked, and certainly more than his portfolio indicates.
“Most people have not seen all my videos,” Walsh said.
It is rare that Walsh will publish a video and not go back to see what he could have done differently. He is constantly trying to capture new angles, tell different stories, and share messages in new and radical ways. Walsh is an innovator, and that shines through in his videos.
This desire to improve does not come without hours of hard work. James has a typical “John image” ingrained in his mind: waking up around 7 a.m. to head off to work, still seeing his 6-foot-tall brother slumped over the same computer screen he’d left him at seven hours before. Rather than being too exhausted to speak after pulling an all-nighter, Walsh would call James over to show him the progress he had made over the course of the night.
It’s not just students or family that recognize Walsh’s tireless efforts. Kiefer asks Walsh the same two questions every time he walks into her office: Have you slept? And when are you planning to sleep?
“John is a perfectionist, in the most powerful way,” Kiefer said.
As Walsh preps for graduation this month, Casey is asking a question on a lot of people’s minds:
“Will he continue making these videos?”
Walsh is currently composing his senior thesis. For his final film project, he is following the story of a college senior caught between pursuing his passion and continuing with a career that will provide him with financial stability. The story sounds eerily familiar.
Over the last couple of years, Walsh has tested the waters in the film industry. He recently interned at Hill Holliday, a marketing and communications agency, and helped to shoot the Bank of America web campaign “The Value of Time.” He worked with and learned from other professional directors, padding his portfolio along the way.
But perhaps his most meaningful project was for Dorian Murray. The Rhode Island boy was diagnosed with stage-four cancer at the age of 4. When the disease was determined irreparable, his family stopped treatment and decided to live the rest of Dorian’s life to the fullest. Dorian’s last dying wish, however, was “to be famous.”
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Videos took off all over New England. Celebrities, school groups, and athletes began making short clips for Dorian, making him “famous” in his last days.
Lea Nelligan, CSON ’18, was from the same hometown as Dorian—South Kingstown, R.I. She came to Agape Latte one afternoon, hoping that the group would follow in the media campaign and make a short “D-Strong” video. They filmed a 10-second clip that meeting, all chanting “You’re famous at Boston College, Dorian.”
But this was only the beginning for Walsh. It wasn’t enough for him to share Dorian’s story—Walsh wanted to spread the message to all of BC and bring the entire student body in on it. He went from classrooms, to Appalachia meetings, to random students in the quad, asking them to hold up signs reading “D-Strong” and “You’re famous at Boston College.”
The video took off once again, and was sent back to Dorian’s family. Even though Dorian passed away early last year, Walsh is still connected with his mother and father. He has invited Dorian’s mother to speak at BC, and continues to work with them to make videos and spread his story.
“It’s never about John, it’s about holding other people up,” Kiefer said.
Through that small, unwanted camcorder that didn’t seem to have any value, Walsh fell in love with telling stories—stories like Dorian’s. Even with graduation upon him and the real world at his doorstep, this does not seem like the end of Walsh’s tale. He hopes to, in some way, incorporate his passion for film into his adult life. He is a storyteller, and he doesn’t plan to let that part of him go anytime soon.
No one can steal that from him.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor