Emily Frizzelle, a native of Levittown, was finally adapting to the “new norm” of online classes as she wrapped up her final year at Philadelphia’s Moore College of Art & Design as a photography and digital arts major.
But during a recent Zoom session, she was thrown for yet another, much more positive, loop.
Moore administration crashed the class to inform Frizzelle that she was named valedictorian of the class of 2020 after earning a 4.0 GPA.
“It was really surprising, but it was really nice news to get in the middle of all this,” she told The Times. “When we’re normally in school, they’ll come to our class with non-alcoholic champagne and they’ll have a celebration with the people in the class. But since all of our things got moved online, they came into my Zoom class and told me. This is the only time that something like this will happen.”
Frizzelle’s pre-recorded valedictorian speech will be shown during a virtual graduation ceremony on May 16. Though she’s happy with the finished product, Frizzelle admitted penning words of hope for her peers proved difficult at first.
“I never had to try to inspire people like this. I was like, ‘What do I do in the middle of a pandemic to inspire?’ That was a tough thing to try and figure out, but I think I got it,” she said. “I reminded everybody that even though we are creative and we push ourselves to create, don’t feel bad if you can’t right now. I tried to reassure people that you don’t have to push yourself right now. Try not to feel stressed about not doing things. That’s really the only thing I felt I could offer that wasn’t tone-deaf. I wanted to level with everybody. I didn’t want to talk about myself and how I’m processing this because there’s a time and place for that, and this was definitely not that time.”
Prior to the school’s shutdown due to COVID-19, Frizzelle said she loved her time at Moore. It was like her second home.
“Getting to be in the heart of Philadelphia and getting to absorb the culture and just be around a whole new environment was fantastic for me and grew my love for the city. I’m hoping to move down there at some point,” she said. “I really made a family down there with all of my friends at the school.”
Frizzelle said her major allowed her to focus on professional photography goals as well as personal interests in animation and video.
As far as her flawless GPA, Frizzelle accomplished this feat by staying disciplined and setting deadlines.
“It was making sure I did things early, gave myself time to look over things and, especially with my projects, I wanted to spend as much time as I could. I started right away and worked on it progressively so that way, by the time I got to the deadline, it was where I wanted it to be,” she said. “It was also a lot of communicating with the professors to show them things early and be like, ‘What can I change about this? How can I be better?’ And also talking to my peers and getting their opinions, too.”
A passion for photography began to build in Frizzelle during her childhood years, when a disposable Kodak camera could usually be spotted in her tiny hands.
Though her focus shifted to painting during her time at Neshaminy High School, it returned to photography in summer 2016, when Frizzelle took an elective photography class at Bucks County Community College, where she was studying multimedia.
“I always was interested in photography, the way that they get the depth of field and all that kind of stuff,” she said. “The first time I held one of the big professional cameras and I took my first picture, I was like, ‘Wow. I just did that.’ ”
After a few photo history and studio lighting classes at Bucks, Frizzelle knew she was on the right path, and eventually transferred to Moore. Her favorite subjects to photograph are people and portraits.
“I did a lot of that stuff in early college, and then I kept doing it and kept improving myself. Now that I’ve gone through all of the phases of learning the technical stuff, I have the freedom to experiment and just make weird things, which is nice,” she said with a laugh. “I also really like doing skyline photography, taking pictures of the Philly skyline. That’s a ton of fun to do.”
After graduation, Frizzelle plans to not only continue working with Visit Philadelphia, for which she lends her talents part-time as a photo and video coordinator, but extend her expertise even further.
“In my free time, I’d like to start studying for my drone license. That way, I can get certified and I’ll be able to have a drone and take pictures of the skyline and do a whole bunch of creative videos and photos of the city,” she said. “That’s the big thing.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org