In Focus, Behind The Camera

Madilyn Witherspoon doesn’t let anything or anyone hold her back. Her determination to combine her passions for business and art pushed her to continue her education without pause and helped her forge her own unique path, despite the obstacles that stood in her way. 

“I’m really keen on accomplishing what I set out to do,” the Saginaw native said. “Once I set my mind on something, I’m going to achieve it.” 

This dedication earned the May 2020 Saginaw Valley State University marketing graduate a coveted spot in one of the most prestigious film schools in the nation. Witherspoon is utilizing her grit and drive as she pursues a Master of Fine Arts degree in film production, with a specialization in directing, from Florida State University beginning this fall. 

The Hollywood Reporter ranked Florida State University No. 20 among the nation’s best film school in August 2020. In 2019, the university ranked No. 13 including No. 4 among public universities.

“I am both honored and humbled to be selected as one of 24 production students out of hundreds of applicants,” Witherspoon said. “If you have a dream, and have the courage and tenacity to pursue it, it can come true.” 

When she graduated high school, Witherspoon knew that the only way to achieve her goals was to continue her education and take advantage of every opportunity that came her way. A film editing class in high school sparked her enthusiasm for art, but she didn’t find a way to combine her creative mindset with her future career goals until she came to SVSU. 

Even when facing backlash for her ambitions, she refused to put her future on hold.

Witherspoon received steep pushback for her dream to study business and art, as well significant resistance when trying to get others to understand her goals. She was told that, if she was a business student, she would have to abandon her creativity and that she was not a true artist. But she was determined to prove others wrong and create her own path to success. 

She knew that having a business degree would be vital to her success as an artist and would help prepare her for her future endeavors.

“I want to eventually own my own business or company of some sort, and I think that helps me,” Witherspoon said. “A marketing degree has the aspect of both a business and creative mindset. I can have a creative outlet with business knowledge.” 

Witherspoon spent countless hours at SVSU printing photos in the lab and fine-tuning her artistic abilities, including her renewed passion for filmmaking. 

She enrolled in advanced multimedia courses and completed several successful class projects— including a detailed documentary that was featured by SVSU’s Alumni Association and a short film entitled “Camille.”

These opportunities at SVSU helped to launch her filmmaking career and earn recognition for her talent. She was able to push her limits by assisting in writing, directing, and taking on the lead acting role in “Camille.”

The short film received tremendous praise. It was screened at various festivals around the country and won multiple awards, including Audience Winner and Official Selection twice. 

“The work that I did in the video production class, with ‘A Brief History of SVSU’ and ‘Camille,’ gave me the spark and confidence that I need to ignite me in following my true passion; I cannot be more thankful for that. What an amazing experience. I will always be proud of my beginnings here at SVSU,” Witherspoon said. 

Witherspoon’s undergraduate opportunities also included multiple study abroad trips, which expanded her worldview and inspired her vision for the future. It also prepared her to move across the country for graduate school. 

“My four years at SVSU have provided me with a solid educational foundation to take on whatever comes my way in the future. I learned a great deal academically, developmentally and culturally through my on-campus experiences and study abroad trips,” Witherspoon said. 

“Through these programs and courses in my SVSU journey, I discovered a lot about myself and took away a lot of knowledge that has been beneficial to my growth as an individual.”

After engaging in the opportunities she experienced at SVSU, Witherspoon feels prepared to continue moving her future forward.

“I believe that all of these opportunities at SVSU helped me become who I am, a more well-rounded and prepared individual. My experiences have made me ready for the future that now awaits me ahead.” 

Witherspoon’s determination to follow her own path and refusal to let others limit her potential has led to incredible opportunities and vast success. She set her sights on the future and didn’t let anything deter her progress.

While she values the advice and knowledge she receives from others, she knows that to achieve all of her goals, she needs to listen to herself above all else. 

“You have to listen to other people, but also listen to yourself and what you need to do. If I listened to others I wouldn’t be where I am,” Witherspoon said. “I’m proud of how far I’ve gotten and everything I’ve accomplished. I have no regrets.” 

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