1977 graduate says high school and mom also influential in his work — and life.
But things “changed.”
“The word ‘change’ best describes my experience in college,” said Hensen. “My major changed three times while I attended four different schools in three different states over a seven-year period. I started out thinking I wanted a career in graphic arts. But, on the very first day in my first graphics class, the professor told us the average salary a graphic artist could expect to make. That number was so disheartening I dropped the class as soon as it ended that day and changed my major immediately.”
Hansen said that throughout his very eclectic college career, he continually re-assessed his goals and adjusted his field of study to not only help maximize his future potential, but to better fit his evolving interests.
“I think I did this because my mom and a couple of influential teachers at Pontiac Catholic taught me to think for myself and keep my mind open to new things,” he said. “Another important lesson I learned in high school came from my 10th-grade geometry teacher, Sr. Mercia McGee. She often told us, ‘The man who knows how will always have a job. But the man who knows why will be his boss.’ That wisdom has stayed with me my entire life.”
Hensen’s life after college — he ended up with a bachelor’s degree in film from Syracuse University — also had a few twists, not the least of which was a planned moviemaking career in LA.
“My goal at the time, of course, like everyone else in film school, was to get to Hollywood and make movies,” he said. “Right out of the gate after college, I started my Hollywood journey in Michigan, working as a production assistant on film shoots for TV commercials. In my personal time, I also wrote unsolicited scripts for network television shows and submitted them through the Writer’s Guild. I even sold one, but it was never produced because the show was canceled.”
His career got its first boost — and a possible slightly different direction — when, while working on a shoot for an AT&T commercial, he made a connection with a creative director at a small advertising agency who was looking for some writing help.
“I didn’t know anything about advertising, but I thought to myself, ‘I watch TV, how hard can it be?’ Two weeks later, I began working as a writer at that agency.”
While at the agency, some very kind people helped Hensen learn more of the ins and outs of the advertising business. “I found that I liked it very much and that I had an aptitude for it,” he said. “Advertising actually allowed me to put my creative-writing skills to use immediately and soon I was in New York — and Hollywood(!) — on a regular basis producing the TV commercials I’d written.”
As time went by, Hensen, whose son, Finnegan, currently is in Notre Dame’s 4th grade, built a pretty good reputation for himself along with a strong portfolio, which allowed him to get better and better positions, move to larger agencies, increase his salary and work on marquee national and international accounts. Over the years, he’s created work in every possible media channel and traveled around the globe collaborating on projects produced in England, France, China, Thailand, Australia, South Africa, Canada and more than two dozen states in the U.S.
In spite of all of this worldly success, Hensen hasn’t forgotten about what, and more importantly, who, actually led to such success.
“I always come back to my mom,” he said. “As I was growing up, my mom was the single biggest influence on my success in life. She always stressed the importance of honesty, hard work and integrity. She taught me to look out for myself and others and to be wary of bullies under any guise. She also emphasized the value of education and made it clear that a college education was critical to success in life. To that end, she sacrificed a lot to see that my four brothers and sisters and I were able to attend private Catholic schools and go on to college. And throughout my four years at Pontiac Catholic, those same values were definitely reinforced.”
Hansen said that even though he and his career are far removed from the small, close-knit community and wide-eyed optimism he shared with many of his classmates at Pontiac Catholic, he still looks back at his high school with great fondness.
“I have so many awesome memories of my time at Pontiac Catholic,” he said. “I enjoyed high school very much and still have a number of lifelong friends from that time. But it would be difficult to choose a single memory as my favorite.”
He said there is one that stands out, however.
“It was a practical joke played on me in retaliation for one I played on someone else,” he recalled. “A few friends conspired to make me late for school one morning. As the first hour bell rang, I was opening my locker only to discover it was filled to the top with popcorn that came pouring out. Then someone sounded an air horn, which brought the vice principal out of the office. So there I was, alone in the hallway, late for class, standing shin deep in popcorn. It was tricky to explain.”
As far as teachers go, Hensen said there actually was one he could say was a real favorite at Pontiac Catholic: Donal Nolan.
“I had Mr. Nolan for a few history classes and homeroom when I was a senior,” Hensen recalled. “He taught me to think differently and question things. He also helped reinforce the importance of believing in yourself and going your own way. I remember having a conversation with him about college. He said he had traveled to Europe the summer after he graduated from college and that experience brought the world to life for him and allowed him to make more of his education. He recommended I do the same. Back then I didn’t understand. Now I do.”
Another thing Hensen understands now is how important one’s early experiences is to a successful life and career.
“One of my favorite expressions is ‘we are standing on the shoulders of giants,’ which simply means that much of our success in life comes to us through others,” he said. “Their wisdom and experience enriches and elevates our lives. We in turn have the power to enrich the lives of others. Over time, it has a cumulative effect by lifting each new generation higher than the one before. In that respect, I think it’s incumbent on each of us to pass along our knowledge and experience to create a better world for those who come after us.
“So if your alma mater is teaching the values, morals and skills you believe will help its students create a better world, then I believe it’s very important to support those students,” he said.
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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." The Marist Fathers and Brothers sponsor NDPMA's Catholic identity and manages its educational program. Notre Dame is accredited by the National Association of Independent Schools, the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org.