University Trustee Francis Giles (he/him) spoke with students on October 10 about his career as a documentary photographer and journalist. At the event hosted by LGCIE, Giles opened up about his role as trustee, how his career got started, and his creative inspiration.
Giles served in the Vietnam War as a paratrooper. Encountering anti-war pamphlets handed out by the Red Cross caused him to oppose the conflict and sparked his interest in politics. After his service ended, he applied to college, which he described as “the first time I ever felt human in my life.” Giles was originally an education major, but soon got his start as a writer at a local paper owned by Time Magazine. He received a bachelor’s in photography from Burlington College and attended graduate photography studies at MIT. After serving as a reporter for The Washington Post, Giles became an accredited freelance photographer at the White House, photographing the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations.
According to Giles, his inspiration often comes from encountering difficult or confusing issues. He explained, “When I want to know something, I always seek the answer to the unanswerable question: Why?” This sentiment is what lead him to photograph a number of subjects, including his coverage of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a series on modern slavery, and intimate photographs of his mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Giles has served as a trustee since he was appointed to the position by the governor in 2021. He spoke passionately about his role here at the university. “I’m thrilled that you give me something to do with my life to make a difference,” Giles said. “If you go out and create, then I’ve done my job.” He encouraged students to follow their passions and to think about what they can do for the world. “Follow your dream and then lead it,” said Giles. “There is something inside of you that wants to happen.”
Giles actively engaged the students in attendance, urging them to stand and speak about what mattered to them. LGCIE Director Sharon Pitterson-Ogaldez (she/her), who organized the event, commented, “It was really wonderful to have him speaking to the students and seeing their response to what he was saying.”
Hearing Giles speak resonated with student Lizbeth Marrerro (‘24) (she/her), who reflected that it “really gave me a deeper understanding of what it is to make a difference.” She explained that while children are often told they can do anything, that encouragement often dies out as we age. “This event really gave me to opportunity to feel that spark in me again.“