*This is the sixth guest blog post for the Longhorn Abroad series. Journalism senior Olivia Suarez studied at UTLA.
Forty minutes into the hike to the Hollywood Sign, I wondered if my recently new friends and I would ever reach the top. The sun continued to beat down on us as we trotted up the Sunset Ranch trail, dodging horse excrements along the way. I’d been a fool not to bring water with me, based on the sweat beads that built up behind my neck. But as soon we approached the route that overlooked Burbank, I knew we were close.
Blog post and photos by Olivia Suarez
I spotted several other tourists at the top of the hill, some with matching neon t-shirts, others elongating their arms with selfie sticks as they sought to capture the perfect Instagram post. I’m not going to deny that I’d thought about the caption I’d be posting shortly after I’d reach the top: the introduction to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”, of course: “If you had, one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you’ve ever wanted, in one moment, would you capture it, or just let it slip?” A few minutes later, we reached the top. I immediately faced the side of the hill facing downtown LA, overlooking the skyline past the typical sheer smog. There it was, Los Angeles. With the sun starting to set just along my right, and a swift breeze blowing from my left, I mentally captured the landscape. “I can’t believe I’m here,” I said to myself. The day was January 31, just a little over two weeks since I moved to Los Angeles for the spring as a student in UT’s Semester in Los Angeles Program. I had just started adapting to the California lifestyle: never-ending traffic, beautiful weather, several trips to In-N-Out Burger, rising gas prices. Oh, and red carpets. Through my internship with ScreenSlam, a small entertainment news outlet based in Hollywood, I’d already been promoted to social media director, interviewed the Backstreet Boys for their documentary premiere, and attended the 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards near the beginning of award show season.
Going into this semester I figured I’d get to take on many exciting opportunities, I guess I didn’t realize the full extent of it going in. Oh how it was only going to get even better. After hearing about the UTLA Program back in high school nearly five years ago, I knew that UT was the school for me. I’d yet to take a tour on campus and speak to students who went there, but the idea of spending a semester in Hollywood appealed to me greatly. Once I started my freshman year, I knew I had to prepare myself in the best way possible to ensure I’d get accepted come the spring semester of my junior year. The road to getting there could not have been any more perfect: I got valuable work experience through Sneak Peek, UT’s entertainment news show, at Texas Student Television.
Within two years, I’d interviewed celebrities such as James Franco, Josh Duhamel, and Jason Bateman on the red carpet and polished my on-camera presentation in the studio. Most importantly, I met some of my best friends. Since day one, we’ve shared like-minded career goals, laughed, cried, argued, and naturally, partied. Several of my friends and I spent the weeks before the UTLA final decisions reviewing our applications, reading through the application essays and critiquing resumes. Never had I experienced a more stressful period of time in my life, wondering if my goals were even good enough in the first place. After all, only around 40 students get accepted into the program every semester. What would I do if I didn’t make the cut? I didn’t want to find out.
I remember the day I’d gotten accepted. It was a late Thursday night, nearly midnight, and I’d gotten antsy about not receiving an e-mail from UTLA while some of my friends had already received theirs. I spent a good 30 minutes talking to my roommate about how nervous I felt about the situation. She told me to try refreshing my e-mail one more time before going to bed, and so when I did, there it was: Spring 2015. Accepted. Those were the only two parts of the e-mail that stuck, and I immediately phoned my parents, knowing they’d think I was in some sort of trouble given the ungodly hour I was calling. But when they answered and I told them, we all cried (well, at least I did).
If every year in college is supposed to get better and better, then senior year was definitely set out to be the best. And it certainly felt that way the following fall semester, landing my internship with ScreenSlam before completing all of my journalism courses. The anticipation of moving to LA lived up to the hype, especially when I got there and met my roommates and started work the first week. That’s not to say that spending my final semester in Cali was a total breeze. Homesickness struck me hard the first month; I wished there was a way my family could visit me. Staying in touch with my friends back in Austin proved to be very difficult; there were times when I believed I’d been forgotten. But then I remembered how UTLA was a once-in-lifetime experience and how I had everything laid out before. Every step to get closer to my dream required some sort of sacrifice, and my family and friends couldn’t have been a stronger support system. There were people rooting for me, I couldn’t let them down. The rest of the semester seemed like a fairytale. Through my internship, I’d gotten to cover this year’s Oscars, dressing up just like all of the celebrities with a white and gold sparkling gown my godmother bought for me. As I started live-blogging from the red carpet, I saw nearly every A-lister imaginable: Jared Leto, Oprah, Kiera Knightley, Benedict Cumberbatch, Reese Witherspoon, Michael Keaton. The list goes on and on, but oh how I will always remember the spectacle of the scenery with reporters scrambling to get ready and the production crew making sure the tarp kept the vicinity dry from the pouring rain. I will also remember the first time I caught sight of the Pacific Ocean while at Santa Monica Beach. I don’t live near many beaches back home, so catching sight of the breaking waves brought a sense of peace over me, a peace that my future is bright. This week, I graduate from UT. It’s incredible to look back at the months leading up to freshman year, and the subsequent semesters I spent preparing for UTLA. Getting to LA was an adventure I will always cherish, and living there in the very end was the best possible experience I could’ve ever asked for, the icing on the cake. My roommates were absolutely fantastic, people to live and know, and the friends I made in the program are those who I know I’ll always have and will be successful in their careers. And of course, I couldn’t have done it without the love and support from my family, my professors, my friends, and my Lord Savior Jesus Christ. I consider this the most interesting time of my life now, because for the first time in five years, I don’t have an immediate plan. I know I’ll be back in Los Angeles as an entertainment reporter and producer, that’s where I ultimately want to end up. But as I’ve said before, I remain optimistic. In the meantime, I guess it’s like the hike to the Hollywood Sign all over again, only this time, I don’t have to pinch myself from dreaming. I’ve already done it, and I know I’ll be there to do it once again.