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President/CEO and Founder of Animation Vertigo Marla de Castro Rausch (GS ’84, HS ‘88) urges students to embrace their uniqueness and rise to the challenge during the 2020 Middle School graduation ceremony

Middle school students were in for a treat as they listened to an inspiring message from alumna Marla de Castro Rausch (GS 1984, HS 1988), Founder and President/CEO of Animation Vertigo. Animation Vertigo is known in the motion capture animation industry for video games, television and film, including Call of Duty, NBA 2K and Spiderman. The company has studios in California and the Philippines.

Marla was looking forward to visiting the Miriam campus for the graduation ceremonies, but unfortunately the pandemic happened. Nevertheless, she felt honored to be the commencement speaker of Middle School Batch 2020 during their virtual graduation ceremony. Looking back, Marla shares that “I loved the experience I gained being at then Maryknoll. Being with girls who showed strength, heart, talent, spirit, brains.” However, it wasn’t always the case when Marla began studying in MC.

During her speech, Marla reminded the graduates that today’s world is so much different from hers. Being constantly surrounded by social media, the internet and smart phones, information is at times difficult to silence. Marla shares that feelings of being unsure, anxious and insecure are normal whenever we compare ourselves to others who seem so put together. “But here’s the secret – no one ever goes into something new without feeling a little insecure. They might look like they’re confident, they might even post about it. But inside everyone, there is a level of doubt.” In her speech, Marla narrates how she overcame her shyness in grade school by embracing her identity – eventually founding a company she is truly passionate about.

A transferee from Cebu, Marla entered Miriam in 3rd grade shy and insecure. “At that time I just saw it as another all girls’ school full of people I either liked or didn’t like – that I was insecure about or compared myself with and found lacking.” Marla shares that it was difficult being the new kid. She didn’t know how to speak Tagalog. She was quiet and didn’t want to be the center of attention. Everyone called her Angela (from her full name Maria Angela) even though she preferred to be called by her nickname Marla. “For the longest time, I was called a name I wasn’t used to using.” Classmates also called her a nerd – and even though she didn’t like it, she didn’t tell them to stop either. “I thought they were all so put together, so confident and sure. I didn’t know how to be like that, but I wanted to be like them.”

Everything changed in high school when Marla decided to be less shy around her peers. She started by telling new people she met that her name is Marla. “That one simple statement was the scariest thing for me, but I did it. And I did it again, and again, and I made more friends.” At first she felt that sharing stories about herself or her opinions would make others think she was weird, but then Marla realized that everyone was different and unique. “We all have our differences and similarities and we learn to find people. I found kindred souls who shared my love for books and writing. Who shared my brand of humor and accepted me for me.” Her friends gave her the confidence to finish high school and move on to college where, by that time, everyone already knew her as “Marla”.

Marla sums up what she gained from this experience. “Here’s the thing I learned about my time in grade school. I remained to be quiet and shy. I remained to be a nerd. In fact, I’m a HUGE nerd. I still read books constantly and I still write. My dream is to finally get a book published. I also learned that if I put my mind to it and decide to do it, that I can make it happen. That I have it inside me – shy, nerdy me – to be more than that.” Marla says that this is a difficult thing to do – it is uncomfortable, frightening, and at times embarrassing, but Marla says that these uncomfortable moments allowed her to learn something new about herself. “I found new ways of expressing myself and coming out of my shell. And more importantly, I got a chance to tell people what it is I want them to call me.” She then poses these questions for our Middle School graduates to ponder on: “What is it that you want others to know you by?  What do you want to be known for?”

Today, Marla’s work at Animation Vertigo allows her to travel all over the world, talking to clients, vendors and partners. She has spoken in front of large crowds in Argentina and Vancouver, and has given interviews for TV, radio and podcasts. Despite all this, Marla still considers herself shy and nerdy. She has embraced this – surrounding herself with video games like The Last of Us II, shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and books like Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman Series. “Yup – BIG nerd – and I’m cool with that!” she proudly exclaims.

Marla continues to do things that are completely new to her, that she is not comfortable to do. In fact, she is an upcoming Executive Producer for an animated movie about the Philippines – “I wanted to tell a story of the Philippines the world has never heard before, and to see the Philippines they’ve never seen.”  This movie will be for international release, and they’ve won a spot to pitch the movie in an international animated film festival. “I’m scared, I’m unsure, and you bet I’m insecure. But the last time I went through this, I came out all right. So I can take a deep breath, calm the butterflies in my stomach and step up. I challenge you to do the same. What do you want to be? Who do you want to be? Find that uncomfortable place and make yourself at home there.”

Marla ends her speech with this: “I look forward to seeing what all of you will become. After all, we come from the same school, and raised in the same campus. Rise to the challenge. It’s what we’ve been known to do.” She congratulates the graduates on completing this milestone. “The year you graduated, the world stopped and stayed home. I can already tell you are going to be a very special batch of women. Thank you again so much, and lead onward, heavenward. God’s blessings be yours, maraming salamat po.” 

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Photo credit: WiTech (https://wi-tech.org/2019/09/10/marla-rausch-motion-capture-animation-ceo/)

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