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class of 2023 documentary

Editor's Note: This story contains documentary availability and other updates. 

With an eye toward TCU’s Sesquicentennial celebration in 2023, the TCU chancellor’s office commissioned Red Productions to create a documentary on the incoming 2019 class, walking alongside them through their entire four-year Horned Frog experience. No one knew at the time, of course, what a unique and defining time those particular next four years would be. Now, four years later, Horned Frogs will see their story in its entirety.

“The original goal of this project was to show the life of our students through four years, culminating with the graduation of our 150th class. We wanted to document their experiences as a snapshot of TCU during this time – for all Horned Frogs to enjoy now and document for future generations,” said Brad Thompson, executive director of university events.

The production worked to capture the students’ time on campus with documentary-style interviews and footage of their experiences. Triumphs and trials. Football games and traditions. Classes and campus programs. And then came the COVID-19 shutdown and the many changes that followed. The documentary captures it all, and the result is beyond expectation.

“When we started this in 2019, we never could have anticipated what would unfold over the next four years,” said Alyssa Vaught ’16, producer and vice president of production at Red Productions. “Obviously, the pandemic was a huge factor in this story, but each student had their own journey and challenges to face throughout their experience. What we have is an honest but hopeful look at the last four years at TCU through the eyes of our students.”

The admission team helped identify potential students to spotlight, and the final cut zooms in on three Horned Frogs from the class of 2023.

“The three students we followed through their four years have really showcased the TCU experience well while also showing the challenges our students face as they grow and develop,” Thompson said.

When the initial invitations to participate were emailed, some students assumed it was a scam.

“I got this strange email at the very beginning of my freshman year asking to interview me about my life, so I thought there was no way it was real,” said John Freeny ’23, who was a marketing and entrepreneurship double major from Fort Smith, Arkansas. “However, I thought about how cool it would be to do something like this, so I agreed anyway. I felt like I was being cast for The Office with these interviews.”

Students scheduled interviews with the production team a couple of times a semester. Some were conducted via Zoom due to pandemic protocols.

Being involved in the project helped Freeny more fully appreciate his college experience.

“It made me analyze my life and reflect on it as I lived it, and that is something I will cherish for forever,” said Freeny, who accepted a job at DaVita in Denver as a Redwoods analyst doing change management.

Thien An Nguyen ’23 from Fort Worth, who is attending Anne Burnett Marion School of Medicine at TCU after earning her undergraduate degree in biology, also initially thought the emailed invite was a prank or scam, but replied “yes” on the off chance it was real.

“I was not sure what the project would entail, but I just felt so lucky and honored to even be considered,” she said. “I remember sprinting from the Commons after watching the Welcome Week fireworks show to film for the first time and to meet the other students. We were all babbling away about how cool it would be to see this four years down the line.”

Watching a preview of the documentary recently, Nguyen could hardly recognize the overly anxious and reserved girl on screen.

“The memories of freshman year struggles came flooding back. It was a very humbling moment to remember how different I was coming into college. I was much more timid and unsure of myself,” she said. “It was incredible seeing my character morph over the years into someone more confident. Being constantly surrounded by people who uplift me, I have become more comfortable being myself here at TCU. Watching this transition in a 30-minute documentary was touching, and it makes me proud of my experience and memories over the years.” 

For Olivia Fannon ’23 of Chattanooga, Tennessee, the interviews with the Red Productions team quickly felt like catching up with old friends.

In a sense, she was. Red Productions is a Horned Frog-heavy video production company founded by alumnus Red Sanders ’04. Each student had to decide how much to share with the camera. Fannon, who graduated in December with a bachelor’s in philosophy, said she wanted to be authentic and transparent, but that commitment meant being vulnerable not only with the production team, but also with everyone who watches the documentary.

“When I considered how honest I should be, I would always choose completely honest and vulnerable because what if someone who sees the documentary is going through the same thing?” she noted. “I hope that viewers see that college is fun and hard. It is a time to learn the most and spend the most time with people you love, doing stuff you’ll probably never have the guts to do again.”

The full documentary is now available to view on TCU's 150th website

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