A Year in Review: My Post-Graduation Story

Color Purple 2

Jesus Christ Superstar rehearsals are really fun! I love performing so much, but within the last year other than The Color Purple at Playhouse and my friend’s memorial concert, I have not performed publicly at all. Performing was a regular occurrence for me while in college and I miss singing in my full voice.  A fellow JCS cast mate mentioned that it was possible to participate in both opera and theatre. I cannot afford to take more voice lessons, so if performing with other opera singers would help me keep my voice up, that would be wonderful! Opera Memphis does not have as many shows in a season as the rest of the theatres in the Memphis community, so it is possible to do both opera and theatre.

So far things are coming along well and this year is already so much better than last year around this time. It is important to tell my post-graduation story because sometimes people only see success, but do not know the struggle that leads up to those successes. I started writing this post last week, but it took me awhile to get it organized and concise enough to publish.

I graduated from college on December 15, 2012. It was such an exciting day and I had one of the best nights ever on graduation night with my closest college friends. We were all vocal music majors and had been close since freshmen year of college and the support system we developed was unique and beautiful. My word of advice for current college students is to treasure your time in school because it will be over before you know it. Life after college can be a shock at first whether you find a job after graduation or not. From age 5 until your early twenties, you have been in school and it is probably the only life you know. This doesn’t mean that life ends after graduation, actually it is a new beginning, but it will be an adjustment and can be difficult to deal with at times.

The group of friends I had in college was unlike any bond I had ever experienced at the time. Outside of this supportive group of friends, there were many other friends in college and in the Murray community that I treasured. I never thought a town could capture my heart like Murray did, but it was and still is considered my home.

Before graduation, I bought a plane ticket to move to New York City to pursue a theatre career. I planned to get a job and take singing, acting, and dancing lessons instead of going to graduate school for theatre. I left for New York City on January 2, 2013 and stayed in the apartment of a former high school friend while he was on Christmas break from NYU.

A security guard company called me about a job opportunity. When the training ended, there was supposed to be a second interview to be placed somewhere as a security guard. In order to go to the second interview for placement, you had to have a New York state license. I brought a copy of my social security card and my birth certificate, but I should have gotten the originals from my parents. New York wanted the originals. The DMV clerk said that I only need either a social security card or birth certificate, so my mother sent me my SS card in the mail. I went back to the DMV again the day before my placement interview and found out the birth certificate was needed as well. This was the first time in my 3 weeks of being in NYC alone that I broke down because I did not want to go back to Memphis.

The security guard company told me it would take a couple weeks to reschedule the placement interview. I had my mother send my birth certificate, but I had already been there 3 weeks and my money was running low. It was not an easy decision, but I decided to leave NYC on January 27, 2013. I looked up auditions online at some Memphis Theatres before I left New York and found out that The Color Purple auditions would be the following weekend.

Finding a summer job in Memphis had always been unsuccessful, so I knew finding a job post-graduation would not be easy. In February, the only jobs that were contacting me were insurance companies so I decided to try AFLAC and got my insurance license.  I auditioned for The Color Purple and got a callback for Nettie, but did not hear anything for months. Also, I was getting frustrated with living at home so I visited Murray on Valentine’s weekend to get a break. I am glad I went because that visit has so much significance now.

In April, I went to Atlanta with my mother because she was being honored by her alma mater. The day we arrived, I talked with one of my closest music major friends, Daniel Milam. He asked if I was in Memphis and I said I was in Atlanta and would not be back until Sunday. He said he would be back in Murray by then and joked about bad timing because somehow we always missed each other frequently and then we said our good-byes. My mother’s event was very fun, but when we got back to the hotel room, I had several missed calls. One of my best friends told me that Daniel had been in an accident on the way back to Murray and said it was bad. I thought maybe he was in the hospital, but then she said he did not make it and that was the most devastating news I have ever gotten in my life. I had never lost anyone that close to me ever. He was my best friend and I do not know if I would have even made friends in college if it was not for him. I loved him with all of my heart and it as a hard pill to swallow. My friend drove from Murray to pick me up from Memphis and take me to Murray, a favor that I truly appreciated. My group of college friends and I held on to each other during a very difficult time and it was better than being home alone with my parents who did not understand my grief.

The day of Daniel’s funeral on the way to the burial, I had a missed called from the director of The Color Purple. He said he wanted me to re-audition for the role of Nettie because the person that was chosen could not do the role. I thought this was good news, but I was still in shock over what had happened to Daniel. I sang “Give Me Jesus” at Daniel’s Memorial Concert in Murray in April. It was not easy to perform, but he loved that song and I felt that I had to do it for him.

Then, I re-auditioned for the role of Nettie and got the role, which I was very excited about. Also, I sang in my best friend’s wedding, which was a great moment as well. It was nice to be there for her special day. I experienced a mix of emotions during this time because when you are around other people, it is easier not to think about someone not being there, but when you are alone in a room, it can be difficult to accept that person is gone. Daniel’s church family was a great support system at that time and I did not have any other local friends at the time. They were truly a blessing and I thank them for their kindness and generosity.

Furthermore, rehearsals and performances kept my mind off of my friend’s death, my troubles of finding consistent employment, and surrounded me with friendly and talented people. The Color Purple was the best thing that happened to me last year and I was so grateful for the opportunity. I struggled to show emotion when performing in college, but on the final performance of The Color Purple, I let out every emotion that I was feeling at the end of the show. It was hard when the show ended because it kept my mind off of the negative aspects in my life at that time and provided me with some income. I still keep in contact with some of the cast and have gained great friends from that experience.  

I quit AFLAC because I was not making any money and I mean no money. It was commission only and it took quite a bit of gas money to prospect to different businesses daily in the community. Since I was not making money in Memphis, I went to Boston to audition for The Color Purple with the help of my extended family. I was not cast in the show, but Crystin Gilmore and Valerie Houston, who were in the Memphis show were cast in the Boston production. They are currently in the production now and I am so proud of them!

In Boston, Crystin mentioned the idea of starting my own business to make money while pursuing a performance career. I liked the idea and mapped out a small plan on how this could become a reality. I thought substitute teaching would solve my money problems so I applied at Shelby County Schools, but they told me they were not accepting any new subs for this school year. Then, I went to Clark Tower and the Independent Bank Building and asked every floor if they were hiring and gave each company a copy of my resume. I went to several temp agencies, probably every agency in the city. Then I applied as a substitute teacher for Kelly Services and several private schools. I did substitute teach a few times for Kelly Services and they sent me to schools about a half-hour away from where I lived and my pay was a little more than gas money for the day.

In August, I went to St. Georges Independent School in Germantown and handed in my application and the woman at the front desk set up an appointment for me to meet with Dr. Burgess. At the time, I had handed in several applications at different schools and no one had done that for me. She said later that she saw something in me and wanted to help me. I interviewed with the principal and was not qualified to be a substitute at that school because they wanted people who had a few years of experience with children, which I did not have.

When I mentioned my theatrical experience, the interview totally changed. He told me that they did plays every semester and the woman directing the plays needed help and the after-care program needed extra help as well. The principal introduced me to Mrs. Broadway and Mrs. Loftin and both of them were really nice. I sent my theatre resume to the secretary as instructed. Then, Mrs. Broadway told me she wanted me to assist her with the play and Mrs. Loftin wanted me to help with after-school care on the days that I was not working on the play.

The children’s show was Annie Jr. and it was a successful show! One of the mothers that worked backstage asked Mrs. Broadway about giving voice lessons to her daughter and she told her to ask me. I told the mother that I would be interested and mentioned that I was thinking about starting my own business. She told me that she was a business owner who likes to help other people launch their own businesses. I met with her for lunch and she gave me several ideas and strategies to market my business to the community.

Around the same time, I started working for Organo Gold coffee company and began to market that business part-time as well. I think the coffee business is great, but I have to get over my fear of sampling people and following-up. Then, I interviewed for Hatiloo Theatre to work full-time, but was not hired.

I realized last year that my theatre resume was so much more impressive than my regular resume. My theatre resume got me my current part-time job and got me that Hatiloo interview. Most of last year, I did not get called for many interviews accept for insurance companies. I applied for blue collar jobs such as grocery stores, restaurants, department stores etc. and got no responses. I realized that I am either over qualified or under qualified for most jobs in the Memphis area. Memphis has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, which was why I did not want to come back home. But, I have gained more of an appreciation for the city since coming back home.

I must create my own work to support myself and my career. I love theatre and performing and recently learned that I enjoy giving voice lessons as well. My voice lessons will be a way to give back to the children and teens in the community and is a job that can go with me wherever I move to in the future.

Last year, I had many challenges and it made me grow up in the process. The year also brought me new friendships and that was the most fulfilling part for me. My friends have taught me the importance of having a personal relationship with the Lord and serving others by reaching out to them and showing love. I love my new friends, cherish the old ones as well and I pray we will be life-long friends. Now you know my story and what motivates me to be an entrepreneur at age 24. Thanks for reading! Have a blessed day!