Tap. tap. tap. My leg was bouncing again. Though my brain was begging my limbs to remain still, my hands shook, and my foot tapped uncontrollably. My heart pounded faster and faster, my throat constricted, and a cold chill made my skin tingle. As my turn inched closer, fear consumed me. My fifth-grade teacher’s voice made the nightmare even more real: “Domonique, it’s your turn to read to the class.”
In elementary school, I was an introverted kid who could barely hold eye contact with her friends. Reading out loud in class was terrifying; that I was ashamed of my speech impediment made matters worse. My fears were paralyzing, causing me to freeze in both the classroom and social settings. Being overlooked was a relief — until one day, after a classmate saw me talking to my mother, I overheard her whisper to a friend in shock, “I didn’t know she could speak.”
That day, in sixth grade, I decided to change. I would stare at myself in the mirror and repeat, “No more silence.” Every day, I’d make strides toward my goal of speaking without fear. My confidence grew, relationships blossomed, and happiness doubled. I learned that embarrassment and occasional failure are the keys to personal growth. Determined, I also overcame my speech impediment.
When I was 17, I discovered how to utilize my newfound voice to elevate the voices of others. I was fortunate enough to visit many Ivy League schools around this time and gained an enormous amount of knowledge about the application process. I also saw my sister and her friends, all women of color, chasing their dreams at prestigious institutions like Wharton. They inspired me to develop a college-prep organization that exposes minority students to what they can accomplish at historically white institutions like those in the Ivy League and beyond. I also hosted college-prep information sessions, partnering with the College Board to broadcast to younger students from backgrounds similar to mine.
Then came my YouTube channel. My interest in YouTube began with watching hours of Black hair videos throughout middle school. I made little vlogs and filmed “challenges” with my friends, but it wasn’t until I posted my Wharton acceptance video that I found my niche: college-centric content. With an influx of new subscribers from my viral acceptance video, I was perfectly positioned to serve Ivy League-bound students. During my sophomore year, I began visiting other universities to document the college experience through different students’ lenses. My goal was to make my YouTube name, Domonique Cynthia, synonymous with information on the Ivies, much the way that students seeking tutoring think of Khan Academy.
My first successful videos were my “73 Questions with College Students” series, an idea I adapted from Vogue’s popular “73 Questions” celebrity interviews, which reveal so much about their subjects in such a short time. My plan was to give my viewers the same up-close-and-personal feeling, but with valuable information and honest firsthand experience regarding top universities — from classroom insights to campus life. I wanted my videos to be lighthearted and fun but useful for comparing different schools.
Columbia University was the subject of my first “73 Questions,” and after 11 takes, it was a success! Almost every weekend and all by myself, I ventured to a new campus by plane, bus, or train, dragging a huge suitcase filled with camera equipment, mics, and lights up and down the East Coast. I slept on the floor in dorms of friends or interview subjects, then returned to campus on Sunday nights to edit (and complete homework assignments). The videos began to gain a lot of traction, and the most popular — an interview with a Yale student — has reached 1.9 million views.
I had planned to start filming abroad when COVID-19 struck and sent us all home to quarantine. To continue making college-focused content at home, I started my second series: “The KickBack,” a discussion show that featured students sharing their experiences and answering viewers’ questions. With representatives from every Ivy League school, I covered topics ranging from course expectations to party culture to social justice. My episode on why Black lives matter was licensed by YouTube’s corporate team and posted on the site’s main channel — with more than 30 million subscribers — to serve as an educational resource on civil rights and inequality.
These four years of dedicating my YouTube platform to informing, motivating, and inspiring high-school students who might not have access to the Ivy Leagues have been extremely impactful. I’ve developed, produced, and edited more than 130 videos, accumulating more than 85,000 YouTube subscribers and 15 million views; developed $5,000 in scholarships for high-school students; and become a consultant on consumer engagement and video channel strategy for Penn’s graduate engineering program. My social media career has also led to projects with amazing brands: I founded and co-produced a series that highlights the journeys of Black entrepreneurs, creators, and artists with ViacomCBS’s AwesomenessTV; partnered with college-focused companies such as Chegg and Amazon Prime Student; and served on an all-female production team for a Netflix documentary spotlighting the connection between finances and admissions on Ivy League campuses. These amazing experiences have led me to my career aspiration — to continue helping minorities through video and documentary films.
Now, with graduation just ahead, I can smile at how far that shy, silent kid has come. As a woman of color at a historically white university, I found a passion for using my business knowledge, creativity, and videography and editing skills to showcase diversity across universities. My goal is to encourage people of color to see themselves in institutions where they have traditionally been underrepresented. I aim to ensure that the doors that were opened for me are left open even wider for those who will come next.
Domonique Cynthia Malcolm W22 is a senior from Carthage, New York, concentrating in entertainment and media management. She enjoys videography, acting, improv, music, traveling, and meeting new people.
Published as “Going Viral, Doing Good” in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of Wharton Magazine.