SJU student takes over Michelle Obama’s social media account March 12-16

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April 4, 2018

By Mike Killeen

Ryan GrahamNo, Ryan Graham has not met Michelle Obama. Yes, he would like to meet the former First Lady of the United States.

For now, he’ll have to settle for taking over her social media account.

Graham, a first-year computer science major at Saint John’s University from Milwaukee, took over Obama’s social media account from March 12-16. It was all part of Obama’s “Better Make Room” student campaign, designed to reach students through social media.

Better Make Room started in 2015, an initiative begun under Obama’s “Reach Higher Initiative.” It’s an effort to inspire every student in America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school, whether at a four-year college or university, a community college or a professional training program.

“It was definitely fun,” Graham said of taking over the social media account, which included Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat posts. “I don’t want to sit at a computer all day, and I don’t want to just do one thing.

“This opportunity to take over (Obama’s) social media was new to me. I’ve never done it before. It was very weird and uncomfortable for me – which is exactly why I wanted to do it,” Graham said.

Uncomfortable is good

It turns out getting outside his comfort zone is a Graham specialty.

“It’s very challenging to live like that. I battle with myself a lot,” Graham said. “But I think that college and life is a place for growth, and I believe the best growth often comes from being out of your comfort zone. I think that if you don’t push yourself to try new things, you probably won’t find your passion.”

Graham said the “backbone” of his takeover effort was a feature story he wrote for the website. The story, “How Community Involvement Transformed Me,” talked about the difficulties growing up as an African-American male in Milwaukee.

“The whole goal with the Better Make Room Initiative is to promote going to college,” Graham said. “So, they use stories as a way of doing that, and also social media was the way to connect with this generation.

“The (overall) feedback has been positive. There’s been plenty of retweets,” Graham said. “When I did the Snapchat takeover, there were people on the Better Make Room Snapchat who commented on my Snaps, ‘Thank you so much for showing me this.’

“Being able to do that on a global scale with the Better Make Room campaign felt good.”

An intern to a leader

Graham has helped high school students in Milwaukee through the “Teens Grow Greens” initiative. It’s a nonprofit organization where teens “learn, grow and go.” During a nine-month paid internship, teens develop life skills through hands-on experience, with the goal of developing purposeful leaders in their own lives, the lives of others and the life of the environment.

“When I joined (Teens Grow Greens), it was the second year of the program, and it has been transformative for me,” Graham said. “I tell people all the time and they don’t believe me, but before that program, I wouldn’t be talking to you now. I was so shy and just kept to myself.

“But, as you can probably guess by the name ‘grow,’ you will be put out of your comfort zone, so that really helped me a lot.”

So much so that he went from being an intern to a leader in the program.

“After my nine-month internship, I couldn’t let it go,” Graham said. “Everybody was asked, ‘In what ways would they like to contribute to the organization?’ And everybody said their time. I thought, I don’t want to just do my time. So, I got this crazy idea, and I asked my boss if he would let me do the interviews for the next cohort of students. Surprisingly, he said yes.

“For the next year, I was responsible for interviewing and selecting the teens,” Graham said.

A grant established in his name

He joined the organization’s Board of Directors, and then became an educator within the group.

“I think — and I say this all the time — the most exciting thing, the thing that made me realize I love to educate, was when my students would tell me that I inspired them to go to college, or I inspired them to find a passion and just get involved,” Graham said.

Then came the ultimate honor. U.S. Cellular teamed with Teens Grow Greens to establish a scholarship fund in his name – the Ryan Graham Scholarship for Excellence. The $3,000 grant goes to one teen in the program “who is doing great inside the program and outside the program who has that tremendous growth,” he said.

“U.S. Cellular did a mini-documentary on me. When they introduced it, I started crying,” Graham said.

“I didn’t imagine the scale of this. That’s what is really cool about getting out of your comfort zone, is that you go on to stuff that you never imagined would happen to you,” Graham said. “I think the great thing for me is that it doesn’t stop here. I’m still young. I still have a lot to go and a lot of exciting things coming up that I’m excited to share.”