Skip to Main Content
Student Success

Finding yourself through film and philosophy

How a love of movies and music can lead to deep levels of self-awareness and personal understanding

Student Success

Finding yourself through film and philosophy

It was a love of movies and music that inspired Ryan Rosu '24 to study film in college. But along the way, he also became interested in the kinds of writing and thinking that unlocked new levels of self-awareness and personal understanding. We’ll also talk about immersing yourself in your passions, and about the value of surrounding yourself with people who are just as passionate as you are.

Featured Majors: Film Studies, English Literature, Philosophy

Featured Organizations: Inside Hollywood, Telluride Film Festival’s Student Symposium, Zero Waste Oxford

Scan the QR code below to listen on your phone. 

major insight episode 53 qr code

Read the transcript

Disclaimer: [00:00:00] The views and opinions expressed in this podcast by the hosts and guests may or may not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Miami University.


Speaker 2 [00:00:08] Freshman year, I came in undecided.

Speaker 1 [00:00:10] I'm finance, entrepreneurship, anthropology.

Speaker 2 [00:00:12] I'm a senior architecture issue.

Speaker 1 [00:00:13] That I'm involved in the blockchain club here.

Speaker 2 [00:00:15] I'm very passionate about studying abroad.

Speaker 1 [00:00:17] Classes are going great.

Speaker 2 [00:00:18] And then obviously very involved with my sorority.

Speaker 1 [00:00:21] I'm thriving.

Meredith Aliff [00:00:25] Hi, I'm Meredith Aliff and this is major insight. This is the podcast where we talk college life with amazing students about how to find your place and purpose on campus. Ryan Rosu has always loved watching movies and listening to music which inspired him to study film in college. Along the way, he's also become deeply interested in the kinds of writing and thinking that have unlocked new levels of self-awareness and personal understanding. Today, as an English literature, philosophy and film studies triple major, Ryan has already had life changing experiences at the Telluride Film Festival's Student symposium and as a part of Inside Hollywood. We'll also talk about completely immersing yourself in your passions and about the value of surrounding yourself with people who are just as passionate as you are.

And I have a question that I always ask everybody at the beginning. Who are you?

Ryan Rosu [00:01:24] That's a challenging question. Well, I'm Ryan Rosu. I'm a junior majoring in English literature, philosophy and film studies. Who am I? I'm really passionate and that's my, I think, defining trait. I just care way too much about everything. I have a hard time not caring.

Meredith Aliff [00:01:41] Well, I like that answer. Passionate. That's cool. So you have three majors. What was the reasoning for choosing all of those? Did you come into college knowing that those were going to be your three, or did you pick some up along the way?

Ryan Rosu [00:01:56] I knew I was going to go into film. That's been my goal. Film kind of took over my life, I don't know, sophomore year of high school, and I decided that that's what I wanted to go into. And when I was choosing majors, I was initially English creative writing instead of literature. But I realized that what I was going to get out of those classes was not the sort of reading and analyzing texts that I was looking for. Not that there's anything wrong with creative writing. I have many friends in the major, but it just wasn't what I was looking for in terms of getting to where I wanted to be, and especially in providing a framework to go into film. I looked at all of my favorite filmmakers, the Coen brothers, for example, majoring in philosophy. Or other filmmakers majoring in English literature, and that is the background I wanted to have. I feel that to get where I want to be as a filmmaker and to feel prepared as an intellectual, I needed to do English film and philosophy. Philosophy to provide the framework to underlie the other two. I've always been passionate about literature since, I don't know, elementary school. Philosophy I didn't really start doing until college, but with that, it sort of made me realize that what I was doing already was philosophy. Philosophy is the art of thinking. It's teaching you to think and to think about thinking, and you can apply that to any sort of text. And so, especially as you get to the higher level classes in the major, I'm taking queer theory now. I took film theory last semester. Any of those theory classes is just applied philosophy with regard to whatever specific topic. And then you use different frameworks, feminist theory, for example, you can apply those to any number of texts and use that framework which is learned through philosophy, and you come away feeling as though you've had the most you could possibly get out of a text.

Meredith Aliff [00:03:57] Yeah. So it sounds like you did your research. Very smart of you to kind of pair those together. So what are classes like? How do you balance three majors in one semester of classes?

Ryan Rosu [00:04:10] So with English and film, there's a lot of crossover, especially here at Miami, because we have a small film department and a much larger English department. But a lot of those English professors have film backgrounds, and so a lot of the English film courses you can kind of double dip. It kind of reduces it to just two majors: philosophy and then English/film. But you get to the point where you're reading 200 pages a week, watching two films. Finals week is like, Oh, you have five days and you have to write 40 pages for five classes. And it's a struggle. It's hard to do that. But God, is it rewarding when you finish that Friday finals week and you're like, I just did that. I can go rest.

Meredith Aliff [00:04:51] You finished it. Because I feel like even ...I mean, these sound like three areas that you're passionate about, but at the same time, it's possible to get overwhelmed and have too much on your plate, even if it's something that you love to do.

Ryan Rosu [00:05:05] If I wasn't passionate about this, this would be impossible.

Meredith Aliff [00:05:07] Oh, yeah.

Ryan Rosu [00:05:08] Like I love these things so much. And that is the only reason that this works. Yeah, you have to love this stuff and just do what you love. And I think that's the key to it.

Meredith Aliff [00:05:16] Yeah, definitely. Cool. So any teachers or classes that you would like to give a little shout out today?

Ryan Rosu [00:05:23] Oh, definitely. Kerry Hegarty. She's the chair of the film department. Incredible person. Just absolutely brilliant. I've taken four classes with her now. I was her UA for film history. But the best class with her was film noir. It was looking at the genre of film noir. Keith Fennen is a philosophy professor. He teaches a class called Confronting Death, and it's a philosophical reflection on what death is, what death means, kind of broken into three sections denial, acceptance .. and I can't remember the third, but ... maybe I should. Maybe I'm not confronting death anymore. But Dr. Jay, another English professor, he's taught war film. I've taken four classes. I find that I do that. I kind of sign up for classes with professors who I've already had because I love working with them. Yeah. Katie Johnson as well. And I find these people who I really connect with and they're invaluable in encouraging me in my own work, working to get things published, doing independent research. And so that four is really important to me. I don't know where I would be now without them. Andy Rice as well. He led the Inside Hollywood program this past j term, which was really life changing.

Meredith Aliff [00:06:41] Yeah. I'll definitely ask you more about that as we go on. You have a personal project that you're working on right now involving Christmas movies. Do you want to tell me a little bit about that?

Ryan Rosu [00:06:52] Yeah. So in film theory, I was working with Professor Andy Rice and we were proposing our projects and I approached him with two ideas. One was about Errol Morris. He's a great documentarian who he happened to work with when he was younger. He's a filmmaker. And my second proposal, I said, this one is more out there, but this is the one I want to do. I watched the movie Bad Santa over the previous Christmas. And I was struck by it because I thought I was just going to be this stupid, raunchy movie. And I found it really meaningful and it got me thinking about what the Christmas genre is, because essentially that film is the Grinch but taken to an extreme with this down on his luck alcoholic, just miserable guy and the Cindy Lou who is like to the extreme the most innocent loving child in the whole world. And I propose that I want to do a genre study of what Christmas movies are because I started researching it and there's not really much writing on this. There's nobody who's really delved into Christmas movies.

[00:07:58] In the eighties or early nineties. Carol Clover, a great film scholar, started writing on the slasher film, and that was the first time that that genre had really seen a critical lens because it's sort of a denigrated genre. It's the B thing, horror slasher, nobody cares about this. And that's how I'm approaching Christmas movies as this coherent genre that has a lot in common. And if you look at the movies as a complete corpus, there's a lot that defines these films in terms of what they mean, thematic tropes in all sorts of things. And so that's a project that I'm really interested in developing further because it's really an untapped place of research. I don't know why I started loving Christmas, but I did. I started ... the one year I watched all of the Rankin and Bass, So like ... when you get in there, it's like you have Rudolph, Frosty, this kind of stuff, but then you get like the Leprechaun's Christmas gold, Pinocchio's Christmas. Just this is bizarre ... I mean, most of it's terrible, but all of this strange stuff and it's this own world. And from an academic standpoint, is untouched.

Meredith Aliff [00:09:08] It's so interesting to me too, because I feel like Christmas movies are classic. So it's really interesting that nobody's kind of delved deeper into that. Okay. So I want to go back to what you mentioned briefly earlier about this inside Hollywood trip. Did you just get back from that?

Ryan Rosu [00:09:28] Yeah. So I had a lot of nervousness about it because it's sort of like this door opening and it's like I can see the future and I don't know if I'm ready. And it's terrifying because you're meeting people who are finding success in the industry and meeting all of these wonderful Miami alumni. But then we started talking to these people and it gave me the path. Basically. I know what I need to do to achieve the future that I want. And I met these wonderful students I was with and there was 15 of us. We were there with Professor Andy Rice and meeting people who are producing films, working in marketing. We met the people who make like the Disney Plus ads that are like "seasons streaming." People who are first assistant directors on a film. Basically, the director of a film is who's the visionary, the artistic director. The first AD is the director of the set, the person who is making sure the lights and the cameras and the actors and everything is coordinated. We got to see the city. We got a tour of the Backlots for Warner Brothers and Universal, and you go to Warner Brothers and you see they're standing New York set that's stood since, I don't know, the forties and they point and they're like "yeah this is in Spider-Man where he does the upside down kiss" and ... 

Meredith Aliff [00:10:44] Oh my gosh.

Ryan Rosu [00:10:45] They had to stuff cotton balls down his nose because the rain was literally drowning him. And it's like, God, this is film history. This is all of movies. And it's a really remarkable experience just to see how ... Hollywood has this sort of veil around it that is sort of like, this is the movies, it's the colony. Everybody here is right is a genious. And it's true. There are so many brilliant people there, but it's also a job. This is an industry like any other industry. It just so happens that the business. It's entertaining people and also making art. But it's a job. And you can learn the trade. You don't have to be this straight out of the womb like genius. Everybody works their way up. So nobody is just born. I don't know. Stanley Kubrick, or something. And it makes L.A. possible, especially building these connections, these incredible Miami students, former Miami students, I should say, who are literally living in L.A., working on films. They're there, they're established, and they're good. And if you move to L.A., they're like, Come get coffee with me. I'll try to get you a job.

Meredith Aliff [00:11:56] Yeah. That's so cool. 

Ryan Rosu [00:11:57] It's all going to be okay?

Meredith Aliff [00:11:59] Yeah. I think specifically to see Miami students doing that and seeing that firsthand is probably so reassuring to like the group of you that went because you're seeing these people that had the same goals as you, and they're doing it. Like, they've actually reached that point. That would be like the extra push for me. I'd be like, All right, we're finishing. Let's do it. So I assume it was a worthwhile experience.

Ryan Rosu [00:12:25] I can't recommend this program highly enough. Anybody who has an interest in film, media, television, even marketing for it, being an agent, needs to be on this trip. It is life changing. And we got to meet remarkable ... I think We talked to Conan O'Brien. We watched him record his podcast. It's like, God, that was incredible.

Meredith Aliff [00:12:48] Yeah, how cool.

Ryan Rosu [00:12:49] I met the celebrity ... We went on the James Corden show.

Meredith Aliff [00:12:52] You're kidding.

[00:12:53] Yeah, Like, we were in the audience. He came and talked. His monologue was right in front of us. So he's talking to students. We got on TV. It was so cool.

Meredith Aliff [00:13:02] That's awesome. So cool. And seeing it firsthand, I mean, that's just awesome. All the inner workings. Cool. So what are some of the biggest challenges that you've had to overcome as a college student?

Ryan Rosu [00:13:15] I think the biggest thing for me was that I was way too insular for my first ... almost all of freshman and sophomore year. I didn't go out. I didn't make any effort to meet people, to participate in clubs, even just to go to parties and stuff like that, just to meet people. And I started doing that at the very end of my sophomore year. And this year, my junior year, I've met so many people. I'm walking to class and I'll run into three or four people I know. And it's so rewarding to connect with people all over different majors and life experiences. I'm involved with Moon Co-op, I'm on their exec. board, so I'm involved with the town of Oxford, and it just makes life so much more meaningful to feel connected to the people and the place around you, rather than just sort of passively going to classes and not putting yourself out there. And now I look back and I regret that I didn't do that, but I'm so happy I started doing that now. And I didn't realize this at the end of my senior year when it's too late.

Meredith Aliff [00:14:21] No, I mean, but you're right. I mean that especially coming in as a freshman and it's super daunting. And there's all these people around you that have been at it for a year or more at this point, and you're brand new. And it really is an uphill battle to try to put yourself out there. I mean, it's scary.

Ryan Rosu [00:14:40] Yeah, it's terrifying.

Meredith Aliff [00:14:41] It's definitely a really big challenge. But like you said, just joining things and coming up with excuses to talk to people. You know, I'm an honors ambassador, so I talk to honor students that have been accepted that are kind of on the fence about if they're coming to Miami. And so many parents and students come in and they ... it's all academics. They're like, I want her to have three majors and four minors. And what can she do to continue academics outside of, you know, classes and all that? And that's great, if that's the road that you want to take. But I think it's super important to get involved, get some organizations under your belt, get some leadership experience and meet people. Like, enjoy. So I like that answer. It's definitely a challenge, but worth it.

What do you do outside of class?

Ryan Rosu [00:15:41] My biggest is, uh, Zero Waste Oxford. I'm president for Zero Waste oxford. We're a sustainability org on campus. If anybody sees the thrift shop that pops up in Armstrong. That's us.

Meredith Aliff [00:15:54] Yeah. Okay, cool.

Ryan Rosu [00:15:55] All donations. And it's intended to keep the fashion cycle going. We also do trash pickups around uptown on Saturday mornings and just do our part to keep the community cleaner. I do a radio show also. It's called Songs from the Silver Screen, and it blends two of my loves. It's music, but it's music from film soundtracks and scores. And so then I talk about films and I'm able to blend those two.

Meredith Aliff [00:16:22] That's so cool. Where can I find that?

Ryan Rosu [00:16:24] I do it on Red Hawk Radio. Mondays at eight.

Meredith Aliff [00:16:29] All right. Yeah. Check them out.

Ryan Rosu [00:16:31] Yeah!

Meredith Aliff [00:16:34] Well, that's super cool. I've never heard of it, but I definitely am going to listen to that because I am very passionate about music as well. Okay. What is the best decision, singular decision, that you have ever made in college?

Ryan Rosu [00:16:47] Hmm. I'm of two minds. My first instinct is applying to Telluride Film Festival Students Symposium, which was encouraged by my film professor. That changed my life and trajectory, and it made me feel as though I'm not alone in that I met all of these people at that film festival who are so passionate about the things that I love. But really, I think the truth is joining Zero Waste. And then, when there was an email sent out that they were looking for a new treasurer, I was like, I'll do that. I was treasurer for green society in high school, kind of mimicking that. 

Meredith Aliff [00:17:28] Sure.

Ryan Rosu [00:17:29] And I did that and I got involved with this club and that's really what got me out of my shell, I think. And I met these really cool people. I developed this group of friends and just started meeting people who I would otherwise not have met and we're always doing collaborations. I talked to a friend who's a president of a fraternity and we'll collaborate on a trash pickup or we'll communicate with Triple A, the Asian-American Students Association. And doing that is the best thing. And I never would have done that had I not just taken that leap of faith and said, Yeah, I'll be the treasurer for this club. They needed a president after that second semester. And I'm like, Well, I didn't want to be president, but I'm like, I'm here and I can be president, and I love it. It's so great to be involved on that level. Yeah, I think that's kind of what changed everything.

Meredith Aliff [00:18:27] One theme that I've noticed though our whole conversation is the importance of like fully immersing yourself in what you're passionate about and surrounding yourself with people that are passionate about what you are. Because I think it kind of gives you that push. Like, if you're ever feeling unmotivated or you're feeling like, Is this actually what I want to do? And I really like how you've kind of molded your experience to surrounding yourself with passionate people.

Ryan Rosu [00:18:57] Mm hmm.

Meredith Aliff [00:18:58] So cool. Okay. So if you could go back and talk to yourself as a senior in high school, what would you say to your senior yourself in preparation for college?

Ryan Rosu [00:19:09] I would say you'll do the academic stuff. Uh, there is no doubt that you'll care about all of your studies. But college, I think, is about developing yourself as an individual and figuring out who you really are. Because I think I felt very directionless in high school. I knew I wanted to do film, but I don't think I knew who I was. And so the further I've gotten in my studies, the more I know who I am and how I want to be. And so that sort of self-awareness and knowing your place and understanding ... and then the understanding that comes with that, of other people who are figuring themselves out, is the key to a happy life. I think. Knowing yourself and knowing how others are and just this radical act of understanding is the only way to really find fulfillment. Otherwise you're sort of just searching for an answer and you can fill it just with meaningless things. You can just waste all your time just watching movies or ... Not studying movies, just kind of mindlessly sitting on the couch.

Meredith Aliff [00:20:21] Yeah.

Ryan Rosu [00:20:21] Not going out, not really making connections with people. And you kind of just have to be honest and authentic, and people appreciate that. And they respond to that. And if you do that, things will be okay. There will be hard moments. Life is unavoidable. But once you have that sense of self, it's really profound, I think, just to be alive.

Meredith Aliff [00:20:46] That's so cool. Love it. Great advice. Okay. Last and most important question. Are you ready?

Ryan Rosu [00:20:51] Yes.

Meredith Aliff [00:20:53] What is your favorite movie?

Ryan Rosu [00:20:54] What is my favorite movie? I'm going to go with for the purposes of this interview. Do the Right Thing.

Meredith Aliff [00:21:01] Okay.

Ryan Rosu [00:21:02] It's a film by Spike Lee from 1989, and it is this monumental portrait. It's one day in Brooklyn and it's about racial tensions and the weather is hot and every ... The movie feels completely hot and it is extremely literate. It's referencing all of these plays. There's a group of Caribbean immigrants who serve as sort of like a Greek chorus in one of those ancient plays. And that film is so, so thoughtful and understanding. And unfortunately, the way it deals with race could not be more relevant today. And all of the issues it's encountering are still so relevant. And so it's a film that is funny and smart and romantic at times, and you just get this sense of this world and then it all sort of reaches this tipping point and it shows you more about the world than you could ever find on your own, because you don't have that distance when you are living your own life. And to me that's the power of cinema: is that it can teach you about how to be and how to live. And to ask these questions that don't have answers, but to allow you to think about them. And so Do the Right Thing is, to me, like ... I've seen it five or six times, but it's just like one of my favorite things because it's doing everything that a movie can do.

Meredith Aliff [00:22:37] Nice. I love that. I'll definitely have to check it out. Do you have anything else that you would like to shout out or promote while you're sitting here? 

Ryan Rosu [00:22:46] A piece of advice that I got ...

Meredith Aliff [00:22:48] Okay. Sure.

Ryan Rosu [00:22:48] ... when we talked to Conan O'Brien. And I found it so insightful because we're talking to this, you know, like legendary comedian at this point. Wrote for Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons. And he hosted Late Night and he's genuinely like one of the funniest people. He comes in and he's immediately making everyone laugh because he's just that smart. But he was talking about what it's like to do that sort of thing, and to be on late night. And he told us anxiety is not a warning light. Just because you feel nervous about something doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. And to hear that from this, like celebrity, it's like, "God, he's he struggles and he's a genius. He's marked his place in history. And this guy still feels nervous about doing his podcast." And that advice is so, I think, important to people like us starting out in life. And it's so scary and it's like, God, I don't know if I can really do this. And that just tells you, like, nobody figures it out. You know, you just got to do it. It's going to be okay. And you just got to give it a shot. And so I think that sort of changed my life.

Meredith Aliff [00:24:01] Yeah, that's a great piece of advice. I mean, to hear that from a celebrity who's made it, like, fully made it, I'm sure it was ... There's nothing like that. Well, thank you so much for coming on. And ...

Ryan Rosu [00:24:16] Yeah this was a fun experince.

Meredith Aliff [00:24:16] Yeah It's been great.

Ryan Rosu [00:24:18] Thanks. 

Meredith Aliff [00:24:21] Ryan Rosu is an English literature, philosophy and film studies triple major at Miami University. After graduation, he plans on attending graduate school before continuing to explore a career in film. And thank you for listening to Major insight. If you enjoyed this podcast, share it with your friends or anyone interested in navigating college life. Many more episodes are now available wherever podcasts are found.

Major Insight is a roadmap for college students who wish to find their place and purpose on campus. Each episode features real stories with real students who are successfully navigating 21st century university life.