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Commentary: A nice guy who finishes first

Posted at 5:06 PM, Feb 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-08 17:58:39-05

This column was first published on

INDIANAPOLIS -- When I first met Travis Braun, he was just a stripling, a skinny kid.

This was well before Column by John KrullTravis won the Doritos’ “Crash the Super Bowl” competition and the $1 million prize and the job with one of Hollywood’s hottest directors that comes with winning. It was before he was a finalist in the same competition last year – even before he’d built a career as a writer in Hollywood.

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Travis was just 15 at the time.

He’d come to Franklin College, where I teach, for a visit. A Texas-bred wunderkind, he was planning to start college the next year and he was looking at schools. He sprinkled his conversation with “yes, sirs” and “no, ma’ams.”

He was tall, not much wider than a piece of string and, like most boys in middle adolescence, all angles, edges and awkwardness.

That, though, was about the only way he was typical. Before he came for that college visit, he’d written four novels and built a freelance career writing for racing publications.

On his visit, Travis spent an evening at the fledgling Franklin College Statehouse Bureau, the precursor to Other prospective students had done that, but Travis was the first to ask to be put to work.

He filed a story for us that night.

That was just the start.

When Travis arrived at Franklin, he was 16, with a few of those adolescent angles and edges smoothed over. His hunger to excel burned. He didn’t approach work; he attacked it.

When he was a student in my reporting, writing and editing class, Travis decided to track Ron Paul’s campaign for the presidency to fulfill an assignment. He hunted down Paul’s schedule and dogged the candidate as if he were prey. My colleagues at the college tell me Travis brought a similar fervor to all his classes.

He racked up honors in a hurry. Three years in a row he was a finalist in Indiana’s premier collegiate feature writing challenge, the Indianapolis Press Club Foundation’s Keating Competition – the youngest to do so in that program’s history.

The first two years he finished second to the same guy, who then graduated and was ineligible for the competition. When the third year rolled around, Travis joked – sort of – that it would be nice if the competition’s organizers would waive the rule and bring the guy back so Travis could have another crack at him.

At the same time, Travis was rolling up internships with The Indianapolis Star, USA Today and ABC World News Tonight. His supervisors there noted the same things his teachers did – that this bright, respectful, unfailingly polite young man could teach a lion a thing or two about ferocity when it comes to getting the job done.

Travis graduated within three years and walked across the stage to collect his diploma before he’d turned 20. He headed to California, where he’s worked on a series of TV shows, among other projects.

And now he’s won a national competition that’s likely to add still more fuel to his rocket ride.

We talk a lot about education in this state and country. Across the board, we say we want to focus on students, but the reality is that, when we discuss education, we spend a lot of time talking about teachers, schools and politics.

Travis is far from the only former student of mine who has done great things. The ones who have succeeded are as different from each other as oranges are from iron bars. They come from different places, have different interests and own skill sets as varied as the colors of the spectrum.

The one thing they have in common is that, to a person, they all worked hard to learn as much and do as much as they can. Hard as my colleagues worked to help them, all our effort wouldn’t have made a difference if Travis and the other students who have succeeded hadn’t worked just as hard or harder.

There’s a truth in there that matters.

Here’s the most inspiring thing about Travis – or frightening, if you’re competing with him. For most people, winning a big competition like this would be a career-capper.

But Travis is barely 25.

He’s just getting started.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.