Courtesy of Carolyn Flueckiger
Carolyn Flueckiger is making America beautiful again. Leaving behind her high school ambitions of pursuing a career relating to pre-med or genetics, Flueckiger graduated from JMU, leading her to where she is now: decorating the White House as an Event Producer at HMR Designs in Chicago.
“One day I was [hoping to] cure genetic diseases and the next day I [wanted to] make parties really beautiful. That seemed like such a shift for me that it took me a really long time to get comfortable with that change,” Flueckiger said. “The people in your life are going to love you and think that you’re amazing no matter what it is that you do. There’s always going to be an opportunity for change; it’s not going to happen overnight, it’s definitely taken me years to get to where I am. But, if I hadn’t had the support and the bravery to [change my mind], I wouldn’t be where I am now, doing events at the White House. It feels important to be able to make change.”
This winter, Flueckiger and her design firm decorated the White House for Christmas. The project was a two-part process consisting of months of planning and predesign before the actual decorations could be put to use. Flueckiger and five of her coworkers were responsible for managing 100 volunteers selected by the Office of the Social Secretary and the Office of the First Lady.
“It was definitely very cool and an incredible experience. It’s very surreal to walk into the Oval Office. You walk in and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is crazy,’ but it’s also like, ‘I have to get to work.’ We had a lot to do in a very small amount of time,” Flueckiger said.
Though projects like the White House are a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Flueckiger’s favorite projects are the ones where she gets to make connections with her clients.
“Some of the projects that I‘ve loved the most have been weddings where I’ve just become really close with the families, whether it’s the parents or the bride and groom… You really get to know them very well, and talk with them about pretty personal details… All of those very intimate details make you get close very quickly over that course of time,” Flueckiger said. “You’re not going to see it on a magazine and you’re not going to read about it on the internet, but those are the most meaningful to me.”
Connections are important to Flueckiger: with clients, family or even teachers. When attending HHS, Flueckiger found PE teacher Jennifer Thompson to be the most impactful to her.
“I just feel like we’re so lucky at HHS with the incredible teachers that we have and how invested they are in their students’ lives. [Jennifer Thompson] was always somebody who I could talk to, who I could have conversations with. She talked to me like somebody that had thoughts and who was developing these ideas about the world,” Flueckiger said. “I always thought that was so valuable, in a way that she maybe never knew. She validated the fact that I have these thoughts and visions for the future and questions about the world. So she was always very important to me, and she still is.”
Flueckiger’s visions for the future included doing bigger things; she wanted to do more, see more. She wanted her work to be beautiful, to be innovative. To satisfy these needs, Flueckiger needed to move to a big city. Searching for a place that was new and unknown, she settled on Chicago.
“Part of [what pushed me to this career] was my mom always throwing parties and entertaining. When I sort of stumbled on that as a career, it just sort of made sense. It was a really great way to tie in [my] business sense with this more creative, sort of abstract career that I had in mind, which was making things beautiful, making events very thoughtful and sort of outrageous in a beautiful way,” Flueckiger said.
What you do in high school is not who you are. Flueckiger wishes she hadn’t lost the ability to explore what else was available while she was a teenager. She urges students to appreciate what is available to them and keep open arms to the opportunities and people around them.
“There are so many different ethnicities and so many different cultural backgrounds [at HHS] that [students] can get to know one another and understand their differences,” Flueckiger said. [They can] see that you can be completely different from somebody, whether it’s your culture or your race or your political beliefs, and still have something that ties you together, whether it’s your sports or the class that you’re in. It’s so nice that there’s just such a diverse collection of people there.”
Flueckiger has found her dream job, but it still comes with challenges.
“[A difficulty] is definitely deadlines and how those tie in with the products that I work with, which [are] generally fresh flowers. [It’s hard to] deal with shipping abilities, weather delays and with climate change. How that’s impacting the global growing economy has been really interesting… The farmers in South America will lose an entire year of products because everything freezes. Being aware of a world that is bigger than us, and how that impacts what I do can definitely be [difficult], but [it’s] something we manage,” Flueckiger said.
Flueckiger encourages kids to stand up to any challenge that may be holding them back from pursuing a career they want, especially with the stigma surrounding design.
“People hear design or design type words like interior designer, graphic designer and they think that they have to be this artistic, very good with their hands, very good at drawing [kind of person]. That type of work or those types of skills [are] so little of what makes somebody successful in this business. There’s so much more than that,” Flueckiger said. “So yes that is important; you definitely need to be creative and have a vision or the ability to cultivate a vision, but it’s also interpersonal skills and working with different types of people, different families, different socioeconomic statuses. Being that even-keeled, interpersonal relationship builder is so key.”