Incoming freshman Katie Ikemoto on Trousdale Parkway.
Photo courtesy of Katie Ikemoto

Imagining a career in storytelling

When Katelyn “Katie” Ikemoto’s father Klete passed away in April 2020 from COVID-19, the incoming communication major honored him in a way that combined tradition and innovation. Though large gatherings were still prohibited in California at the time, Ikemoto created a series of videos to help people in her community participate virtually in Obon, an important Japanese Buddhist festival. These videos ended up being a way to connect to her culture while also leading her toward the study of communication.

Growing up in Yorba Linda, California, Ikemoto played varsity basketball for Yorba Linda High School and was president of the Creating a Lifelong Leader volunteer club. But her greatest memories were the days spent at nearby Disneyland with her parents (both USC alumni) and sisters, enjoying not only the thrill of the faster rides, but how nearly every aspect of the park tells a story.

Ikemoto is one of nearly 1,000 students joining USC Annenberg this Fall. During the next few months, we will share some of the stories of these incoming undergraduate and graduate students and why they chose USC Annenberg as the place to pursue their degree.

Why did you choose to come to USC Annenberg?

As I was exploring universities, I really found myself interested in communication as a major, but I noticed some schools didn’t offer it as a major, or you couldn’t take classes right when you start as a freshman. And then I saw USC and I was like, “Wow, they offer it completely on its own and it’s a really good school!” I liked that it’s a broad major, so I can still have room to choose what I want to specialize in doing. I also liked that they are offering you all these opportunities to combine different things from other schools — I can take film classes also, if I want. I have the chance to pursue all my different interests while also majoring in communications.

You created a virtual Obon in summer 2020. How did that experience lead you to want to study communication?

The Obon festival is normally held in Japan, and people go there to visit their families and participate in a lot of festivities. It’s also a Buddhist summer festival. So, the Buddhist aspect of it is that you do Obon dances to show your ancestors who’ve passed away that you're happy and doing well. With my dad passing last year, that was something that I had really personally needed to do last summer. It was meaningful to me because I’ve been participating in it ever since I was young with my family at our church in Orange County.

I had some video editing skills in my back pocket, and I thought, “Why don’t I just make a video series and post on YouTube so that people can watch along and still enjoy?” So, I led my church group, and we created about 22 videos about Obon and how to virtually be part of the festivities. Making these videos taught me a lot about what I wanted to do and how I can apply these types of skills to help others. I wanted to go into communications and learn more about how to reach audiences in a different, creative way.

Talk about the impact that living so close to Disneyland had as you were growing up.

When I was little, I really wanted to be an Imagineer because my dad told me all these facts about Disneyland. I wanted to know how everything worked and even wanted to make up my own ride. I thought I had to be an engineer, but during my last year of my high school during a career fair, I talked to one of the visitors from Disney Imagineering. She told me that I didn’t have to be an engineer, and we discussed other areas that I could explore. With a communication major, I will learn how to effectively tell stories, and I think that’s kind of why communication and Disney and Imagineering could all combine together really well for me.

What are you most excited about for the Fall?

Just to be at USC. Going to a lot of the Annenberg introductory sessions, I was just really blown away by all the different opportunities, like the Adobe Creative Suite that we all get, all the resources and amazing professors. Just to have the college experience and learn. I really can’t wait.