From struggling teenager to confident student: Aspiring filmmaker John Dargan '14 proves life is art

John Dargan '14 speaks at a screening of
John Dargan '14 speaks at a screening of "The New Public" at the Boulder International Film Festival in Colorado.

John Dargan ’14 stood on the Washington Mall as an official member of the press as President Obama was inaugurated for a second term. As the aspiring filmmaker helped capture the historic moment for PBS, his own story of challenge and triumph was never far from his mind.

Seven years ago, Dargan was an ambitious and talented freshman struggling with his identity and problems at home. His school, New York’s Brooklyn Community Arts & Media High School, was the subject of a documentary, and filmmakers followed Dargan and several other students to track their growth and progress.

Dargan did well in school, but “failed the SAT with flying colors,” he says. He was frustrated with the inability of the standardized test to capture his intelligence and determination. He knew he could handle a rigorous academic program, and he applied to Connecticut College in part because of the College’s holistic approach to admission and standardized test-optional policy.

The film, “The New Public,” includes a powerful scene in which Dargan opens several college rejection letters. Distraught, he finally receives his letter from Connecticut College – an acceptance. 

“When Conn accepted me, it was such a powerful moment,” Dargan remembers.

Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Martha Merrill ’84 says Connecticut College’s policy is designed precisely for students like Dargan.

“One of the reasons Connecticut College went fully test-optional was to ensure that smart and academically inclined students whose testing does not align with their high school records would still have access to our high quality education,” she says.

Merrill says she remembers meeting Dargan when he visited campus as a prospective student. “His outgoing personality and enthusiasm for Connecticut College stood out. He continues to wear his enthusiasm - and appreciation for his CC education - on his sleeve.”

Since the day he held his Connecticut College acceptance letter in his hands, Dargan has taken advantage of every opportunity at the College, including self-designing his major, studying away, preparing for a College-funded internship and developing lasting relationships with his professors. 

Dargan says he intended to be a film major, but an introduction to sociology class with Professor Afshan Jafar sparked his intellectual curiosity. He decided to pursue a self-designed major in media studies with a focus on media consumption and influence.

“Professor Jafar, she’s like a shining star for me. She’s driven, she knows her research, she’s very smart. She’s very supportive of me and what I want to do with my life,” Dargan says.

Jafar is equally impressed with Dargan.

“Even in a large crowd, John is somebody who makes himself known. He is curious, and his enthusiasm for learning clearly shows,” she says.

Last fall, when many of his classmates studied abroad for a semester, Dargan chose to study away at American University in Washington, D.C., to further explore his passion for media and the world of television production.  He selected the program at American specifically for its internship component – he interned with PBS NewsHour Extra – and its location.

“I wanted to be doing something important,” Dargan says. “I chose to be in the nation’s capital during the election because I knew the media would be going crazy in D.C.”

Because of his exceptional work with PBS NewsHour Extra, Dargan was selected to assist with the coverage of the 2013 Presidential Inauguration in January. Often working 19-hour days in the weeks leading up to the ceremony, Dargan says the long hours of filming and editing were well worth it.

“We did interviews and spoke about different issues that Obama supports in an attempt to cover the inauguration in a completely different way,” Dargan says.

Dargan has high hopes for the future, and is currently applying for a Connecticut College-funded summer internship through the College’s Career Enhancing Life Skills CELS program. During the process, Dargan says he has leaned heavily on his CELS counselor Cheryl Banker for support.

“Cheryl has been like a rock for me,” he says. “Whenever I need help or whenever I encounter something that I feel like I can’t do, she finds a way. I really think she is the reason why I am where I am today.”

Dargan also remains connected to the people and the film that shaped him as a high school student. “The New Public” has begun to tour film festivals around the country, and Dargan had the opportunity to attend one in Colorado earlier this semester.

Jyllian Gunther, the film’s director, says Dargan has played a vital role in the film and its success, as a subject, a filmmaker and a spokesperson for the power of education.

“He was, as he still is, both strong and vulnerable,” she says. “He is a complex person who has so much to offer and his story really exemplified some of the most positive ways schools can help their students succeed.”

- By Bailey Bennett ’14

March 29, 2013