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"Humans of New York" founder shares his story, stresses importance of hard work


Brandon Stanton founder of Humans of New York speaks to the audience on Sept. 28 in  

Plachta Auditorium in Warriner Hall.

More than 40 students and community members waited anxiously outside Plachta Auditorium Thursday, Sept. 28 to hear Brandon Stanton speak. As the doors opened, students flooded in, trying their best to get close to the stage. Over the course of a half-hour, the venue filled with more than 200 people before the speech began.

Stanton is an acclaimed photographer and best-selling author, but he is best known for his blog, “Humans of New York.” He started the blog in 2010 as a catalogue of those who inhabit New York City, but over the past seven years, the blog has transformed into a blend of photography and storytelling.

Stanton was chosen to speak by the Central Michigan University speaker series committee, a group of students, faculty and staff who look for a diverse selection of speakers each year that will tell interesting and inspiring stories to the students and community. The committee chose Stanton to speak as the kickoff for the Fall 2017 season. Their hope was to get students inspired by his can-do attitude.

Stanton began his speech by telling his story- after having a rough time in college, he still graduated with a degree in history. Coming out of college, he explained his friend got him a job as a bond trader in Chicago, which he said he was not good at. Two years later, Stanton lost his job and began to reflect on his life. 

“I spent the last two years of my life thinking about nothing but money,” Stanton said. “I’m going to spend the next foreseeable amount of time trying to make just enough money to where I can control my time.” 

After saving enough money to move to New York City, Stanton began pursuing photography full-time. 

“It felt like a treasure hunt,” he said. “I loved finding something beautiful and capturing it.”

Lake Orion senior Margaret Mocny was one of the many students who attended the speech Thursday night. Mocny follows the “Humans of New York” Facebook page and owns one of Stanton’s books. She saw a banner promoting the event, so she came, hoping to hear about Stanton’s favorite stories.

After an interaction on the subway, Stanton decided to start photographing people, specifically, strangers. Which is how “Humans of New York” began. 

Over time, Stanton began including quotes and stories to accompany the portraits, which gained a large following afer that. Now, Stanton said he focuses less on the photographs and more on the interviews because viewers can relate to stories more than pictures. 

Today, the blog has over 20 million followers on social media. It also inspired Stanton’s two best-selling books: “Humans of New York” and “Humans of New York: Stories.” 

The path to get there wasn’t easy. Stanton stressed the importance of hard work and discipline throughout his speech.

“People use following their dreams as an excuse to not work hard,” he said. “Following your dreams correctly is nothing but hard work.”

This message resonated with Mount Pleasant freshman Sloan Felton. Felton said he attended the speech because his brother is a fan of Stanton’s work.

“It was very good,” Felton said. “I really liked the part where (Stanton) talked about following your dreams but make sure you’re still working hard.”

After the speech, Stanton held a Q&A for the audience. Over a dozen people stepped forward to ask questions. Some asked about the blog, while others asked for advice about starting their own projects.

Stanton said the main idea he wanted the audience to understand was that “Humans of New York” was not a concept he came up with overnight. “Humans of New York” evolved as Stanton continued to work and grow as a photographer.

“There’s no such thing as a perfect idea,” he said. “It was the idea that followed the work, not the work that followed the idea.”