All Eastern Mennonite University alumni, the Stauffer siblings – Steven '10 (left), Jessica '03 and Michael '06 – grew up in New Market, Virginia, but now live in New York. (An additional Stauffer sibling, sister Kaitlin '15, still lives in Virginia.) (Photos by Jon Styer)

Big city sibs: EMU grads feel the pull of NYC’s energy, complexity and opportunities

The nearly dozen years Michael Stauffer ‘06 has spent in New York have revealed a constant beauty in the city’s energy: optimism.

“Every single day, something can and may happen that will be a new opportunity, to completely change where I am and what I’m doing,” he said. “Every day, there’s just a chance something amazing is going to happen.”

Michael is the second of the three Stauffer siblings from New Market, Virginia, to move to New York. He developed and emcees the weekly frolic “Not Your Standard Bingo” at the Standard Highline Hotel – it sells out weeks in advance – and recently contracted a weekly trivia night. And he’s hosted San Diego Comic Con bingo with Conan O’Brien, Comedy Central activities at the South by Southwest Festival, an NFL Fan Style Showdown with Erin Andrews, and more.

“More than anywhere else I’ve ever been in my life or in the world, New York is a city where you walk out the front door and someone can just walk up to you, say, ‘Hey, I know you from such-and-such, and you know what? You should be in this thing that we’re doing,’” he said. “It’s really the world’s best library for experiences and just getting a 101 on different things.”

Read about more New York City-based alumni in the current issue of Crossroads magazine.

Michael’s older sister Jessica ‘03 was first to the city, but her boxes of books have also followed her to a Pasadena bookstore job and back to New York to be the program and development coordinator at the American Booksellers Association in White Plains.

She advocates for independent booksellers by fostering relationships with publishers, planning conferences, and researching and creating marketing materials like the Indie Next List or fliers for bookstore windows.

She lives where she can return to the city for shows and fine dining but where the sounds of city life don’t reach her living room and she can keep an herb garden. Don’t let her bookworm introversion fool you, though – a big reason for attending EMU was its stretching cross-cultural requirement. She traveled to France and the Ivory Coast. 

“The focus on language, culture and history of two very different but connected places meant that I was able to start to grasp the complexity of another place and culture,” she said. That “inkling” has developed in her years surrounded by the “huge variety of different cultures” in New York.

“I found I had developed a curiosity to learn more about the complexity of how someone had grown up, what they retained, and what they let go of,” she said.

Steven ‘10 – sibling number three – graduated already feeling the pull of New York. It was nearly two years, though, before he moved there – and then it happened on short notice, for an interview that didn’t bring him work for another year.

Now, he’s “swamped” with freelance video and photography projects – an ad for an app, a web mini series, an Uninterrupted episode about Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia, a short movie – and his portfolio at stevenstauffer.com is affecting.

“I have always been called ‘sensitive,’” he said. “I do connect more with the emotional side of a project, how that translates visually and aesthetically, than I do with flashy camera tricks or big, expensive equipment.”

That’s what EMU taught him – soul. Film school may have taught him more about the techniques of filmmaking, but he would go to EMU over a film school again because its liberal arts focus was on “the part that’s harder, the stuff you don’t learn on set: the why, and the motivation, and everything behind the technical facts,” he said.

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2018 Crossroads. Read more articles here.

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