An alumni-produced video series goes back to the basics
Last year, two alumni, Aviselle Diaz ’15 and Ahmed Khalayleh ’15, moved back to King’s Academy — this time not as fulltime boarding students but as employees in the school’s Department of Communications and Publications. After producing — and starring — in a fun and informative series of videos that highlight the unique culture and identity of King’s, they have become recognizable as the faces of King’s Academy. Beyond King’s sat down with Diaz and Khalayleh to learn more about how they are putting their insider knowledge of King’s to good use.
First, let’s catch up. What have you been doing in the seven years since Commencement?
Diaz: I went to Georgetown University where I studied regional and comparative politics and then international development in the Arab world. I have been working in communications for several years.
Khalayleh: I majored in Chinese at Williams College. I have worked as a freelance photographer, filmmaker and graphic designer.
What brought you back to King’s Academy?
Khalayleh: I came back to work as a faculty assistant during the pandemic Green Zone, or “bubble,” and was tasked by the Office of Advancement to make a video about it, which led to me also writing for the Department of Communications and, eventually, I was hired as a fulltime writer and content producer.
Diaz: For quite some time I had wanted to find a way to not only come back to Jordan but to give back to King’s. So, when the position of writer opened up in Communications, I think it was just a perfect opportunity to use my skills and give back to the community and to offer my perspective as well.
Was a career in communications something you had envisioned?
Diaz: Initially I had envisioned myself working in diplomacy or the humanitarian field — I wanted to build bridges. I realized that through communications I could use my creativity to build those connections and, in many ways, to do so more meaningfully through storytelling or audio-visual means. So, my intention has been the same, but the shape that it took on changed.
Khalayleh: I didn't think I was going to get into filmmaking and content production until after I graduated from Williams, because I studied Chinese and wanted to get into education. Then I had the opportunity in 2019 to work as an assistant producer with The Film Guys [fellow King’s alumnus Robert Bahou ’11’s company], and that kick-started my interest in filmmaking.
Tell us about this video series you produced.
Diaz: This series of five videos centers on the five Guiding Principles of King's Academy: Respect, Love of Learning, Responsibility, An Integrated Life and Global Citizenship. We have tried to encapsulate their essence, or how students experience them, through a more engaging and lighthearted way.
Khalayleh: We wanted to create short, funny and engaging videos talking about different parts of King’s, and it made the most sense to start with the Guiding Principles, because these are the values you want King’s students to have. We felt people don’t really know about them until they come to King’s, so the aim is to educate kids on what they are, but also so that external audiences know that these are the values we have at King’s to give them a better understanding of what King’s is.
What was the process involved in making these videos?
Diaz: So, the process very much involves us reflecting on our own experiences, but also what we've observed of King's students' experiences now, being on the other side of the table, so to speak.
Khalayleh: It starts with coming up with an idea, and then it comes down to scripting. We work on the writing together, and before that there is a lot of brainstorming.
Diaz: It’s the brainstorming that takes time because we are trying to balance telling a story with encapsulating these very lofty principles into a short piece, thinking about the pace and the format and all the different elements of the story.
Khalayleh: For these videos in particular there were a lot of philosophical discussions. Like, what does it truly mean to be a global citizen? We go scene by scene and try to think about things we're saying, visuals we’re showing, and how it might be interpreted by an audience. Then there is the filming, and every shot and angle is very deliberate and intentional to ensure the message is being carried through. Then there is the editing.
You also star in the videos. What was that like?
Diaz: I never acted before, but I enjoyed it. I keep thinking that I could do better — I really should've taken theater at King’s! You realize that it's a very edifying experience. It forces you to be outside of your comfort zone, which is a good thing.
Khalayleh: It's fun. Being in the videos is fun, and making the videos is fun. But we are hoping to expand it to featuring students as well, because there are a lot of students who have the kind of personalities that you want to show on camera and show the audience these great examples of the kind of students you can find at King’s.
As alumni, it must make it easier to tell these stories.
Khalayleh: The upside is we went to King’s, we know what the school's about. So, a lot of the hurdles that an outside production company would have trying to understand the school’s culture, we skipped a few steps by being alumni.
Diaz: It gives us a perspective, like an unspoken language, with everybody that we interact with at King's and that just makes it easier to move the process forward. For example, we understand that this is not a purely American school; the diversity and range of experiences and backgrounds at King’s can't be condensed into that.
What has the experience been like for you, as alumni?
Diaz: It’s given us the opportunity to reflect on our time as students, what we loved about it. It's been very satisfying to hear people say that they feel the video represents their experience at King's. We didn't think that the videos would necessarily be a community-building moment, but it seems like they are, they provide opportunities for discussion and connection.
Khalayleh: One of my former teachers came up to me, gave me a hug and said: “Thank you for making that video [on Global Citizenship], you really reflected who we are.”
What were some of the challenges you faced creating this series?
Khalayleh: I think the biggest challenge is having enough time, because we're not just filmmakers. We’re doing a lot of writing, photography, creating social media posts, and at the same time doing this pretty big project. It’s not easy to find a chunk of time to just talk about a script.
Diaz: Another challenge is finding the balance between figuring out the essence of what we're trying to say about the principles and how to represent that in a concise way.
Khalayleh: Also, there are stakeholders involved with these videos. So, we do get feedback and with this sort of creative process there are a lot of hits and misses, so it’s back to the drawing board, which is expected, especially as we are trying to push the boundaries of the kinds of videos we are doing to make them stand out.
What are some of your favorite aspects of the process?
Khalayleh: Part of it is having a lot of creative freedom, if you have an idea, to just go with it. Also, doing a bit of everything, it pushes you to learn new things.
Diaz: I came in as a writer and now I’m working on scripting, filming, producing videos and also taking photos and sometimes elements of graphic design. I feel like I can be part of many different creative aspects and parts of the process, which is a surprise because it wasn't what I expected, but I think it's what I love about the job. I also love that our work has purpose and meaning to it, which is very important to me.