Auburn alumna, magazine editor returns to the Plains to deliver fall graduation addresses

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Executive managing editor of Cosmopolitan and Seventeen magazines Maria Baugh remembers well her time as a student at Auburn University. She shared her story with Auburn's newest graduates during the fall 2016 graduation ceremonies Saturday, Dec. 10, at Auburn Arena.

Baugh recalled her struggles to choose a major, starting with psychology and then moving to international business, before spending a school break researching the Auburn catalog to try to choose a major.

While journalism stood out to her, she dismissed the idea because she knew it would mean moving to New York if she wanted to work for a magazine. After quieting the voice in her head and heart about journalism, Baugh chose pre-law.

"As graduation got closer, I started to get a sinking feeling that I had made a big mistake," Baugh said of her choice of major.

On a trip to Haley Center with a friend, just weeks before graduation, Baugh passed the journalism department where the word "journalism" was painted largely on the wall.

"It was practically yelling at me, telling me that that's what I should have done. I should have majored in journalism. I knew it then and I knew it back when I was going through the catalog that day, but I chose to ignore it," she said.

Baugh graduated from Auburn in December 1985 with a degree in pre-law and moved forward with her plans to begin law school in the fall. However, as time went on, she knew that wasn't the correct path for her.

"I didn't want to be a lawyer so I did the only thing that made sense," Baugh said. "I came back to Auburn in June and started working on a journalism degree."
After earning her second degree from Auburn's College of Liberal Arts in 1987, Baugh landed a job at a weekly newspaper in Covington, Georgia. It was there that she connected with a fellow Auburn graduate who convinced her to move to New York.

Without a job in the Big Apple, Baugh agreed to move there for a year. Despite landing a magazine job on her second day in town, she still wasn't convinced that life in the big city was for her.

"Every time I'd see a plane fly over, I'd wish I was on it heading back down south," Baugh recalled.

But by sticking it out one week at a time, Baugh realized after a few months that she was actually having fun in New York.

That realization came during one particular magazine assignment where Baugh was scouting locations for an upcoming photoshoot. She was standing on an unfinished apartment terrace with no guard rails 40 floors high in Manhattan, photographing the skyline, when a gust of wind came and she retreated to the apartment.

"As scary as it was, it was incredibly exhilarating and it was about that time that I realized New York was the place for me," she said. "So when the opportunity arises to do something awesome but terrifying, do it, even if there are no guard rails."

Baugh credits her degrees from Auburn with providing her the opportunities she's had in her career – and she reminded Auburn's newest group of alumni that their degrees will open doors for them, too.

"Once you figure out what you're meant to do and find the courage to take some chances, you'll be on your way," she said.

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