There are very few things that would make me drive through two hours of traffic on a weekday to visit my alma mater. When I heard last minute that the time had come for the Chapman Digital Arts seniors to screen their films, I dropped everything and left work at Disney Interactive early to make sure I got to the show on time. When I arrived, I saw another digital artist who graduated with me the previous year. We caught up as we waited in line at the Dodge lobby before the show.

It turns out, as I’d forgotten, that the second row of the Folino Theater was reserved for Alumni and I was invited to sit with them. I saw a bevy of my most intimate friends from college already seated and it felt like home. The students screening their films sat in the row in front of me. The majority of them were also my friends, and I couldn’t be happier for this hard-working group of artists.

Derek O’Dell’s (BFA/Digital Arts ’16) stereoscopic motion graphic musical experience “Aeon” opened the show and captivated the entire audience. Tim Trankle (BFA/Digital Arts ’16) created a functional video game called “Spectrals,” in addition to an incredible intro cinematic that was at least five minutes long, effectively completing two stellar Digital Arts thesis projects in a year and a half. Tony Yin’s (BFA/Digital Arts ’16) visual development project for “Carved” resulted in rapturous applause. I have fond memories with all of them and I became emotional watching their films.

It is customary that the filmmaker speaks briefly about their project after it screens. The one unifying thought shared by the directors in all of their speeches was that Digital Arts is a true community. Without fail, every single filmmaker thanked mom and dad and then gushed about how supportive the DA community truly was. And it’s true. The best group of friends I had in college were my fellow Digital Arts students. Even after I created my own major to focus on a specific set of digital arts skills, they always considered me a part of their family.

But Digital Arts wasn’t always such a thriving community. In fact, it started my year with the class of 2015. The Digital Arts freshmen that year were a real motley crew of awkward, but hopeful, animators with dreams of creating passionately for the rest of their lives. That shared goal was enough for us to connect and bond on a deep level despite the fact that everyone was so different. In any other context, I guarantee that none of us would have naturally found ourselves in the same social circles. It didn’t take long before we established a culture of blind acceptance and overwhelming support, so much so that we attracted many people outside of the major looking for a genuine college community.

Collaboration and a come-as-you-are mentality are qualities that now define the Chapman Digital Arts experience. More than learning how to make an animated film, Digital Arts students now learn several lessons that are products of the culture that has been curated for the last four years. The first is that everyone’s differences should be celebrated and that it is those qualities that make us unique that become our greatest creative asset. The second is that helping others rise doesn’t detract from your work, it strengthens it. And the third is to never ever forget the words to Smash Mouth’s 90’s hit “All Star.”

Marcus Garrett is the creator of Top Shelf Gaming, an editorial website that seeks to use the power of video games to impact online and local communities. He enjoys playing guitar, taking naps, and eating tacos. His idea of a perfect day is one where he gets to do all three. Follow him on Twitter @marcus_media.