Lindsay Czarniak is one of James Madison University’s most illustrious alumnae. Her rapid ascent in the sports broadcasting industry has led to her current position at ESPN, the mecca of sports broadcasting. Ahead of coming back to JMU next week to deliver this year’s commencement address, she took the time to speak with The Daily Duke team personally. Here’s what I learned.

Lindsay grew up in northern Virginia and chose JMU in part because of its reputation as “larger than life.” She said she was influenced to attend JMU by friends that attended and reminisced warmly about her time here. “JMU is a great school academically, but it is also a lot of fun,” she said. “Students that go there love it and come away with great experience and are really prepared for what’s next.”

When asked about her first visit to campus, Lindsay told us that, similar to most students, she experienced that special indescribable “feel” of JMU’s campus. She describes feeling immediately comfortable on campus, and reminded us how important that feeling is when you’re 18 years old and weighing college options.

Lindsay wasn’t disappointed by her friends’ recommendations or betrayed by her initial feeling of comfort. Simply put, Lindsay loved JMU, and fondly remembers her student career. Her favorite memories include living with her best friends in Ashby (aka “The Harrison” for all you young kids), spending time with her Sigma Kappa sisters and strolling the quad on unseasonably warm spring and fall days.

Beyond the happy memories, Lindsay credits JMU with providing the education and environment to ignite a passion that would fuel her success in the sports journalism field.

She jumped into the broadcasting industry during her communications practicum class her junior year at JMU. She participated in a rotational class, giving her the chance to learn all the different skills needed to bring together a TV program. This class delivered Lindsay’s “Oh my God, this is what I love” moment.

Lindsay recalled the nights she would stay in to work on a segment for JMTV (a closed-circuit TV show that used to be offered to JMU students) instead of going out with her sorority sisters. Sitting behind the JMTV desk spoke to her passion, and hosting this show was the first step in what has so far been a very impressive career.

Lindsay continued pursuing internships and then broadcasting jobs after graduation. But, like so many of us, she shared with me that her choices weren’t always perfect. She spoke about a time that she struggled with a difficult decision. She was working in Miami when a work opportunity in Washington D.C. was offered to her.

Relying heavily on the guidance of her agent, co-workers, friends, and mentors she turned down the job. She almost immediately felt a twinge of regret. With the gumption to admit her own misstep, she called the station in D.C. a few weeks later, and luckily Washington NBC4 still had a spot for her and she was able to return home to DC to work.

What did she take away from that experience? To always listen to her heart and to trust her own instincts. Her advice? “Weigh your options and really listen to yourself. Don’t be scared of what other people are saying.”

Despite being told by people close to her that this decision could hurt her career, it ended up being a major stepping stone. Czarniak eventually replaced her mentor at NBC4, George Michael, and as we all know, progressed to her anchor position with ESPN.

What I find most impressive about Lindsay is that she has defined herself and blazed her own career path. She has made decisions that were unpopular among her confidants. She’s so clearly confident, but not afraid of or above admitting mistakes.

Lindsay wants everyone getting ready to graduate to “listen to your heart” and “explore everything you might be interested in.” Wise words from someone who embodies pursuing their passion and working in a field they love.

That said, she reminds us all that success won’t be immediate, and urges everyone to “keep yourself in the moment.” Reminiscing on the point in her life when she was a “struggling aspiring broadcaster right out of school,” she said she would like to tell her 22-year old self to “Just chill out a little bit. It’s all going to work out.”

Advice I hope we all keep in mind.

Make sure to see Lindsay speak at the University Graduation Ceremony at Bridgeforth Stadium at 3pm this Friday, May 8.

SportsCenter - April 1, 2015

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