TSU valedictorian: a storyteller with a powerful story of her own
TSU 2022 valedictorian Ashley Gillis. Photo: TSU.

Ashley Gillis loves telling a story. So much so, that she is making a career out of it.

The senior radio, television and film (RTF) major, who was recently announced as Texas Southern University’s valedictorian for the Spring 2022 graduating class, will travel to Bristol, CT, headquarters of ESPN, next month to become an audio operator for the international cable sports channel.

“I hope to someday become a senior producer,” said Gillis, who prefers working behind the camera rather than in front of it. “I love creating content and combining audio and video to make a story engaging.”

It is the start of a dream come true for Gillis, a Houston native who graduated from Westside High School in 2013. Her aspiration to become a musician took an unexpected turn after she initially enrolled in a small, private, music-focused college on the East Coast. She lost her drive to pursue music during her first semester, ultimately leaving school and taking a series of part-time jobs that “were more focused on making money rather than shaping a career,” she said.

Five years later, with a renewed interest in broadcast journalism, Gillis enrolled at Texas Southern University and hasn’t looked back.

“During that five-year break, I found myself,” she said. “I grew and matured, and it gave me perspective that I otherwise wouldn’t have.”

In addition to graduating Summa Cum Laude with an impressive 3.94 grade point average, Gillis has taken advantage of the many resources and opportunities that the University offers to its students. In 2019, she was selected to serve as an intern with ABC News during the Democratic Presidential Debate that was held on campus. Throughout her time at TSU, she has worked at KTSU2, a student-run radio station that has given her experience as a production manager, incorporating audio and video in her work. She also worked as a producer and editor for a local show called “The Yard,” hosted by fellow TSU student Janathan Henson.

“As the production director for KTSU2, I really get the freedom to create whatever content I can imagine and post it whenever I like,” said Gillis. “It was the greatest practice tool I could have ever asked for.”

Gillis credits several professors who assisted her along the way.

“Professor Val Wilson and Cliff McBean really helped to mold my creative style. Val taught me the ins and outs of radio and always encouraged me to do more. McBean not only taught me how to edit, but also how to create my own style. I can’t forget about Professor Arthur Murray who gave me some direction and motivation.

“TSU has provided so much for me,” added Gillis. “It is a special place, and it has helped me grow professionally and personally. I will tell anyone, especially those just getting their start at TSU, to make a plan in your mind and then execute it. Keep going and get to the next level. It (your plan) may come in small pieces, but don’t be afraid. It will happen if you pursue it.”

When she walks across the stage as one of 891 graduates at Commencement on Saturday, Gillis will have fond memories of TSU. 

“I had an interest in sports media and my parents told me that TSU would be a good option because it has a great communications program. So, I just went all in. On the very first day I remember sitting in a classroom with nothing but people that looked like me and that made me feel really warm. From that moment, I knew I was in the right place.”