Embarking on a journey to create an institutional RU120 advert that is authentic, sincere, and lives up to the legacy of 120 years of academic excellence is one thing. For Rhodes University to organically unearth in-house gems and powerful stories in the process is quite another.

RU120 is a year-long celebration of 120 years of Rhodes University’s existence, and as the university set out to create its next-generation television commercial (TVC) using its own staff and students, the brief was to be true to the brand.

That brand is rooted in the knowledge that not only is Rhodes University a place where leaders learn – and have been learning for more than a century – but one that is connected to the community around it.

The RU120 celebration year, therefore, kicked off with an Education Summit hosted by the Makhanda Circle of Unity, which focused on inroads made in the education sector in Makhanda stretching from ECD to primary, secondary, and tertiary education. One of the driving forces in this educational transformation was Vice Chancellor Prof Size Mabizela’s vision of partnering with NPOs to give local students a pathway to access the university, including through GADRA, which offers a programme for local youths to improve their matric marks.

When the Summit was hosted, the wheels were already in motion to shoot the historic RU120 TVC.

Using a blind casting process through its TVC production company, Hive, Rhodes University invited all staff and students to audition with no prescriptive norms regarding race, gender, or seniority. One of the individuals who emerged from this process as one of the faces of RU120 was Junaid Denston, who embodies the RU120 celebration message, “We don’t plan on stopping.”

Denston was born in Makhanda and attended Mary Waters High School, where he completed his grade 12 in 2017. He took it upon himself to improve his results through the Gadra Matric school programme and secured a bachelor’s pass, allowing him to pursue a degree at Rhodes University.

Denston remarked, “I felt like I don’t belong here because of the huge vocabulary that the lecturers used.” But Denston kept his eye on the prize and applied himself to his studies. He is currently a first year Master of Arts Candidate in Drama. Denston credits one of his lecturers, Miss Judith Reynolds, as having been key in supporting him to this milestone – and it was again a member of staff who convinced him to consider a role in the RU120 TVC.

“The shooting made me realise I could do this acting thing,” remarked Denston. He complimented the production for capturing the essence of Rhodes University, which, to him, is its diversity.

Denston believes the University embraces different cultures, backgrounds and socio-economic backgrounds, and that is what makes it “home”.

Watch Junaid’s performance on the RU120 TVC here: