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In memory of our friend Alex

Earlier this year, the Onward State family lost our friend Alex Federman in a tragic accident. The following are my prepared remarks on behalf of Onward State for a memorial service that was held at the AFI Silver Theatre, where a seat was dedicated in Alex’s honor. The above Photoshop was produced lovingly by AFI staff in Alex’s honor (he was a huge Muppets fan).

For all of us, I know this scene continues to feel surreal – someone else’s movie.

Alex was taken too soon. Amy, Joe, Mark. Know that you have the love of all here today representing Onward State.

Onward State. It’s the vessel through which I and many others came to know Alex. For those of you who may not be familiar, Onward State is a Penn State news website that a couple friends – Evan and Eli, sitting there a few rows back – and I started as undergraduates.

I’d like to share a few Onward State memories that represent Alex to me.

Our relationship started in the most mundane of ways, in November 2009. Onward State was using a new Google service at the time, and we had invites to spare. Alex asked for one.

Around that time, Alex also entered Onward State’s first photo contest, a search for the best fall campus snapshot.

Alex was one of the site’s earliest fans. I think this was probably through his residence in the Simmons Hall honors college dorm, where Evan, Eli, and I also lived.

One of Alex’s first comments on the site shared his opinion on the university president’s annual holiday movie review. Alex enjoyed Avatar’s visual style, by the way, but didn’t connect with any of the characters – he preferred Sherlock that year.

We are privileged to be gathered here today with a number of people who met Alex as he was pursuing his professional career, a life in film. Alex sometimes worried that he was doing less interesting work than his peers, his friends. I wish I had told him just how wrong he was. There is nothing more interesting than following your dreams, and Alex had a vision for his life – few people have such a strong sense of what makes them, them, and are ready to pursue it come hell or high water.

Movies were Alex’s passion. I think this wasn’t just for their artistic value, the composition of the scene – though he certainly could speak to those technical aspects. Adrian touched on this earlier, and I agree with him. I believe Alex loved movies because of the common culture they created – the community, the shared narrative, the wonderful pool of meaning that emerges when a group views a moving picture, together.

And it is this understanding of community, this intuitive groping towards shared experience and mutual meaning, it is this love of togetherness that for me will always represent to me what Alex did for me, for Onward State, for all of us gathered here today.

Alex and I met in person – outside of the comments section – for the first time in the spring of 2010. We were taking COMM 150H, The Art of Cinema, together. It was a small class. We met in a film screening room twice a week at the library, and then Wednesdays at the State Theatre.

To be honest, I don’t remember much about this class, other than a fondness for the professor, Dr Kevin Hagopian, and of course for Alex.

I asked Kevin if he remembered us – if he remembered Alex. His comments are exactly what I expected to hear, what I knew I’d hear –

Alex Federman was my student. More importantly, he was smart, droll, and generous, on his way to being a fine artist.

Kevin mentioned that he and Alex would often spend time chatting in the halls of the Carnegie Building after class, about films they thought each other should see. I didn’t participate in those “little conversations about big things,” as Hagopian described them, but I knew Alex was in his element during that spring semester cinema course.

When we opened up Onward State recruitment a few months into the course, Alex reached out to me – he’d like to apply, he said.

I told him at the time that some of our best staff began as readers.

Alex was unsure if he wanted to be a writer or a copy-editor, so he applied for both.

After reviewing the application, and considering the situation, I emailed – “Alex, I have an idea for you. Let’s meet to discuss.”

Alex joined Onward State that week as our first-ever social media manager. He had never run a social media account before, other than his own, but from his comments on the site to his Tumblr to his Twitter, it was clear Alex had that insight required for effective mass engagement. Alex got community.

I was a tough boss. Eli and Evan will tell you this. I’ve learned a lot since then, and I wish I had been better, but I was a tough boss to Alex and I pushed him hard to be the best possible community manager he could be. Alex rose to the challenge, and became a standard-bearer for quality at Onward State. He gave the brand a pulse online.

Alex was a pioneer in college media community engagement. He knew this, and he was proud of it. So am I, and I hope all of you are, too. Alex generated so much shared meaning for Penn State. He did much good for the university.

Alex’s greatest impact was on the Onward State community itself. Onward State was Alex’s safe place, I think, a space where he could be himself and pursue his passions triumphantly. He made Onward State a safe place for others, too. Alex was a role model staff person. The first to jump onto a Yammer thread, the first to friend a new staff member, the first to show up to a staff party, the first to photobomb a group shot. Always open – always candid – always trying to make a connection. Always trying to welcome others, with his unassuming kindness always showing.

I’d like to turn the podium over to my friend, and Alex’s friend, Kevin, to speak more about the Alex we knew and loved at Onward State.

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