Manhattan College Students Rise to Fame on TikTok

by Madalyn Johnson & Victor Franco, Web Editor & Staff Writer

Throughout the chaos of last year, many negatives struck college students who were hoping to end their spring semester on a positive note. But the uprise of a video-sharing app, TikTok, allowed a lot of college students to cope with the COVID funk that took away so much. 

The app is undeniably popular amongst college students, and some from Manhattan College have managed to stand out and obtain “TikTok fame” thanks to their content that shows how it’s like being a college student, going to school in NYC and working to get a degree during a pandemic.

Some Manhattan College students have turned to the popular video-sharing app, TikTok, to share humorous and relatable content during difficult times, like the COVID-19 pandemic. TIKTOK.COM/ COURTESY

Jessica Solan is a senior at Manhattan College majoring in communication with a concentration in media production. She’s one of many students who found TikTok to be a humorous escape from the current pandemic as well as the common stresses all college students undergo. 

Solan shared how the app distracted her from the abrupt news of leaving campus early last year. 

“It was so isolating being there [home] but on TikTok, it’s like everybody feels what you’re going through and you’re talking to each other like it’s a community or there’s a bunch of different communities in it,” Solan said. “I even, to this day, most of the videos I watch are like comedy and travel videos now. I’ve also worked manifestation in there, but like, just like dreaming about traveling again, got me through that. Watching funny videos for hours got me through that too.”

With over 39K followers and over 1 million likes on her account, @jessicasolarpanel, Solan explained how she’s elated about how many views her content gets, but finds confusing how certain videos can go viral. Unlike how influencers operate on apps like YouTube and Instagram, Solan doesn’t focus on making similar content and instead takes her shot in posting random videos that she finds funny.

“I know that it’s better to find a niche, and stick to it, but I can’t find what I want my niche is. I’ve blown up for like, totally different things. So, I have attracted different audiences, but I haven’t found what I constantly want to do because some videos I’m like, ‘This has one-hit-wonder energy’ and then I’m like, ‘Okay, well it fits into this category.’”

For a student like Solan, who is fascinated with entertaining audiences and working with social media, TikTok was no challenge for Solan to confidently be herself in front of a camera and produce videos that audiences find hilarious and relatable. Although Solan admits her time on the app has helped her with her goal of working with social media professionally.

“I’ve always been comfortable in front of crowds and I’ve been performing since I was little, so public speaking has never really been a big issue for me,” Solan said. “But like, it definitely has made me more confident in my social media abilities because, on Instagram, it’s hard to grow. You can make content and still have trouble finding an audience just because people aren’t randomly scrolling through Instagram like they are on TikTok on the for you page. So, I might go into social media production and now I know I could do that sort of thing in different ways.”

Sami Rini is another upperclassman at Manhattan College who has successfully achieved TikTok fame. A junior and childhood education major, Rini has over 3,000 followers and over 660,000 likes on her TikTok account, @sami82900. Her most viral TikTok has 3.5 million views and humorously pokes fun at college students who excessively show others where they’re from.

“It was just a stupid joke that me and my siblings made one night and we thought it was funny to make it into a video,” Rini said.

“We were talking about how college kids, specifically those from Cape Cod, use their arm to demonstrate where they are and we thought it was funny to try to use that idea in different states and make our bodies form different states. So, we just woke up the next morning, we made it a video and all of a sudden, it blew up.”

In addition to watching and making funny videos, Rini found the app useful when learning more about social justice, a topic that was extremely relevant in the middle of 2020. 

“It [TikTok] definitely gave me a good laugh when I needed one, but it also opened up my views in a way, like I had access to a lot of educational information regarding things like social action and social justice that I didn’t have access to before. So, it was really helpful in quarantine to kind of like dive into that and find creators that could help educate me in that way.”

Rosalia Cefalu, a sophomore majoring in analytics and minoring in finance is winning over TikTok followers on her comedic account, @iamrosalia. With over 3 million likes and 40 thousand followers, Cefalu makes silly videos about her life experiences. 

“When I first started, it was about having fun and I really liked that desire of going viral, I always thought that would be cool. The more I did TikTok I started posting a lot of videos about family life and I got a lot of people reaching out to me about that.”

Cefalu integrates her humor into her videos to connect with her audience. Through TikTok, she’s found that she could openly share her personal struggles by having a laugh.

“That sort of became my inspiration because I was someone who could make a lot of dark humor jokes about drug abuse and child abuse. A lot of people related to this and thought it was good to see someone joke about it,” Cefalu said. 

On top of going to TikTok for a source of entertainment, Cefalu has been able to use the app to gain experience in her field of study. Cefalu posted an amusing TikTok describing how hard it’s been to find an internship after sophomore year. A company commented and reached out to her directly after the video was posted. 

“It was so funny that this happened, but they hired me. Part of it is I produce content for them on their TikTok page, but since I have the business analytics background, I do all their data analytics on LinkedIn, Facebook Marketplace, and TikTok.”

Cefalu is determined to pursue more in life other than social media, however, her experience on the app so far is appreciated. 

“I have no plan, but I would love to see it go somewhere and when I have the time I would definitely do work on it,” she said.

Maria Swiatkowski, a freshman majoring in English, is another upcoming TikTok influencer from Manhattan College. Swiatkowski, also known as @mariaswiatkowkii, was able to gain more than 10 million likes and 130 thousand followers since Oct. 2018. She shared how she’s been able to gain a lot of followers. 

“I post whatever I want to, like videos of my friends and I, funny videos and compilations of videos. I think of ideas when I hear a Tik Tok sound and then relate it to something that’s happened to me, which can relate and help someone else,” Swiatkowki said.

Swiatkowki explained how she still engages and has fun on the app, even when a video doesn’t do as well as expected.

“If the video is kind of embarrassing I usually just make it private. If the video only gets a small amount of likes, I just keep it up for my friends,” Swiatkowki said.

Because of her mass following, Swiatkowki receives offers from companies that pay creators to advertise products. Swiatkowski is given the opportunity to collaborate with these companies by being tasked to show off a product creatively in a TikTok.

“One company offers to pay for videos with certain sounds. It would be like 50 bucks for a video with a specific sound. Another company sent me skincare products so I can make a video with the products,” Swiatkowki said. 

As much as Swiatkowki enjoys making content on TikTok, she’s faced downsides when making content for a large audience on a large platform. Swiatkowki described that with a big following also comes people who don’t agree with you. 

“Recently since Nov., anytime I get a viral TikTok the comment section is like a warzone. People debate if they agree with me or not. Anything that I post and goes viral becomes very political,” Swiatkowki said. 

The several students from Manhattan College who are popular on TikTok have dealt with their own struggles when creating content, yet have persevered to relate to a generation that’s currently enduring so much during the most vital years of their education experience. Despite having a large following, these students want others to know that fame is not important, rather being creative and simply having fun is what should be a priority. 

“It’s not a matter of being embarrassed about what you post. Everyone on TikTok is thinking the exact same thing like, ‘It’s so embarrassing,’ but it’s just some app,” Swiatkowki said. “I started posting whatever I want and I usually don’t delete it if it doesn’t get likes because it really doesn’t matter.”