In the midst of this year’s Homecoming celebration, ComArtSci alumnus and YouTube sensation Tyler Oakley ’11 returned to campus as grand marshal. The Communication graduate is now an online personality, author and social activist with over 7.9 million followers on YouTube, 6.7 million on Instagram and 6.2 million on Twitter.
In addition to his laundry list of accomplishments, which include having his own show on ellentube and being one of this year’s Forbes 30 Under 30, he is now the youngest grand marshal in MSU’s history.
Grand Marshal Duties
Oakley’s popularity clearly extends beyond the Internet. Hundreds of ComArtSci students waited in line to join Dean Prabu David in WKAR Studio A for an exclusive chat about creativity and planning a career in media.
Oakley and the dean spoke in front of a packed house, talking about everything from Oakley’s time on campus to his social activism. The alumnus captivated the crowd as he took questions from the audience and encouraged students to chase their dreams and make the most of their time here at MSU.
Oakley also met with President Simon and some fans before MSU’s Homecoming Parade. He made his way down Abbott and Grand River right behind the Spartan Marching Band.
ComArtSci alumni and friends who attended the 2017 Homecoming Bash got the best view of the parade. From their prime spot in front of Beggar’s Banquet, they were able to cheer on the grand marshal.
From East Lansing to Los Angeles
Oakley’s YouTube career began right here on campus in East Wilson Hall in 2007. His first video showed him giving a tour of the dorms and talking about the people on the fourth floor.
“It was just a diary of my experience as a freshman in college,” said Oakley. “I think going and putting myself out there in the universe gave me the inspiration I needed to actually have something to talk about. In that sense, MSU was vital.”
Oakley had no idea that his digital diary would turn into a career and launch him into internet stardom. But what made his channel stand out from all of the other college students posting videos online?
“I’m not going to look at this blessing and try to question it,” said Oakley. “If I had to put my finger on something, I feel like people gravitate toward authentic selves. People gravitate toward people who don’t take themselves too seriously and who just want to have fun."
Making a Difference
Oakley has done a lot to promote authenticity and owning who you are. He is an activist for LGBTQ+ rights, actively supporting The Trevor Project. For many, his YouTube videos are a source of encouragement and affirmation.
“There are communities where you feel like you’re alone, you’re ostracized,” said Oakley. “When you can go online and feel like you’re a part of something or see people that you can relate to or self-representative media that, in a way, is not happening in TV or movies, it’s groundbreaking. The internet has really kind of smashed through what’s possible in media and I feel like YouTube especially provides possibility models to people out there who might not have those in their own communities.”
For ComArtSci students who want to create their own channel, podcast or book, Oakley has some advice for you: don’t be afraid of what you don’t know. You might not be in love with what you create now, but everything gets better with practice.
“Start today,” said Oakley. “A year from now, you’re going to wish you started a year ago.”
By Kaitlin Dudlets