MSU YouTube star comes back for homecoming parade

No stranger to MSU’s campus, YouTuber Tyler Oakley will revisit his alma mater this weekend in the prestigious position of homecoming parade grand marshal.

Oakley got his start making videos while at MSU and has since skyrocketed to fame. His channel, which has nearly 8 million subscribers, covers everything from LGBT advocacy to Halloween costume ideas.

The prolific video blogger is also a published author, documentary star and podcaster. He made the 2017 Forbes “30Under30 list” and was named one of Time magazine’s “30 Most Influential People on the Internet,” among other awards.

City Pulse caught up with Oakley before his debut as grand marshal.

While at school, did you ever consider that you might be grand marshal one day? Was that ever your goal?

That never once crossed my mind.

Homecoming festivities have always been such a fun part of going to MSU, and the football games and the tailgating. That to me has always been quintessential Michigan State. I have always loved my experience doing that. Having lived in Wilson as an RA, you had to work duty for most games. Half the games, I couldn’t even go to them, and I would watch from the windows on duty, and I loved it and wished I could be a part of it. I never dreamed that that could be me. Even getting the invitation to do it now feels so young to be doing it. It is a surprise.

What would you say is a lasting lesson you learned from your time at MSU?

So much of my time at MSU was pursuing education for this certain reason and trying to get a certain job and trying to make this happen. I had the expectation that I would make this happen, or live here after I graduate, and preparing for that and preparing for when things go right with that and when things go wrong with that — that was really helpful.

The Career Services Center — I used to work there at Michigan State — and they really helped me with all of that process. When I wasn’t getting the dream job I wanted, helping me figure out what the next steps were, that was a life lesson that I really needed. Those life lessons were really helpful and have really helped me navigate my YouTube career.

Will you be making a video of your time at MSU this week?

I do want to do a concept that is based on this experience. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I want to make sure that I capture it. My YouTube Channel to me is yes, a job, but I am so lucky and fortunate that I can go back in the last 10 years and see what I was up to in any week. It’s always been a diary in that sense. To have a diary entry like this is something that I see what my parents have of home videos growing up, and the fact that I just have all this stuff to look back on years and years from now will just be the coolest part. It’s gonna be weird but so much fun.

Your videos have evolved over the years from being just to friends and family, to comedy-themed to sometimes touching on serious issues like LGBT advocacy. Why did you start expanding your platform to include topics like these?

There was a time at MSU when I was just making videos for fun, and that’s always been the goal. I remember clear as day when I was in the dorms. I got a message from somebody. I would always get messages from people that said, ‘Thank you for the videos, I really enjoyed them,’ but this was a specific video from a young LGBT person who was talking about how they were thinking about killing themselves and instead, they would watch me and all of my friends on YouTube.

Messages of encouragement are really appreciated, but when it’s a message of something as serious as life or death, it kind of puts things in perspective of what you can be for somebody, just by being yourself. In my head, I didn’t think I was making this groundbreaking work or these videos that were life-saving, or affirming or whatever. But for somebody, it was death. That was one of the first times when I got a wakeup call that, even if sometimes it feels frivolous, your work can be important, and it can be crucial in some capacity for somebody. It’s not like it changed my content or anything, but it taught me to be more conscious of what I’m putting out there.