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The Willistonian, Est. 1881

Williston’s Arts Stars and their College Plans

Gabby+%28far+left%29%2C+Destiny+%28third+from+left%29%2C+and+Makenna+%28fourth+from+left%29+perform+as+Rockettes+in+the+fall+dance+concert+Contagion.+Credit%3A+Flickr.
Gabby (far left), Destiny (third from left), and Makenna (fourth from left) perform as Rockettes in the fall dance concert Contagion. Credit: Flickr.

Gabby (far left), Destiny (third from left), and Makenna (fourth from left) perform as Rockettes in the fall dance concert Contagion. Credit: Flickr.

Gabby (far left), Destiny (third from left), and Makenna (fourth from left) perform as Rockettes in the fall dance concert Contagion. Credit: Flickr.

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Creative members of the class of 2017 will uphold the tradition of talented Williston students heading off to pursue the visual and performing arts in college, with acceptance letters from selective art schools like Berklee College of Music, NYU Tisch, and Pratt Institute of the Arts, among others.

Seniors Gabby Record, Makenna Hambley, and Destiny Nwafor will all pursue the arts in different degrees at their respective colleges. Gabby plans to study music production and engineering at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Makenna will pursue dance and theater at Hobart and William Smith, while Destiny will dance and sing at Cornell. Makenna and Destiny are both considering minoring in dance.

“The impact of the 2017 senior class on the dance department has been immeasurable,” said Debra Vega, Williston’s Director of Dance. “I know these young women will carry these skills into the rest of their lives and they will continue to make their mark in the world in their own unique way,” she said.

In terms of visual arts, seniors Sitai Chen and Mark Wei will attend Pratt Institute of the Arts and NYU Tisch, respectively. Sitai will pursue industrial design, and Mark will focus on photography.

These seniors are ecstatic to be pursuing their talents at these competitive universities. “I’m beyond excited because I’ve always been interested in music technology and now I have the chance to study it in one of the best facilities in the world,” said Gabby.

Williston has a long tradition of students pursuing the arts in college. Students have studied the arts at NYU, Northwestern, Skidmore, Emerson, USC, as well as RISD and Parsons, among others. “We have a number of really successful alumni,” said Natania Hume, Head of the Arts Department.

The success does not come easily. Ms. Ditkovski, Director of the Williston Theater, said pursuing the arts in college is very difficult. “I have lots of very interesting theories on why that is, but the bottom line is that you really never know if you are going to get in or not,” said Ditkovski.

The application process is brutal for both visual and performing arts. For applying to a visual art institute, a student must create a portfolio of 18-20 pieces, while some performing arts schools require an audition, or a video that showcases the student’s skills. Most schools also require writing supplements that question students’ artistic inspirations.

Most applicant’s portfolios take years to create. But not for Mark, who realized his passion for photography the summer before his senior year when he did an internship in China. “Definitely start early,” he advised. “Making a portfolio within a month and a half requires minimal sleeping, a lot of shooting. It is definitely doable, just not what you should do.”

Hume and Ed Hing, Williston’s photography teacher, advise students on their portfolios. Ditkovski does the same, but with the theater audition. “I help them pick audition pieces and coach them on those because, as I said before, the pieces need to be top notch,” she said.

Unlike sports, artists are not recruited. Depending on the program, their acceptance is determined by one audition, and college representatives are not able to interact with students at the high school level. “The college-audition process recreates the reality that actors will face after college,” said Ditkovski. “It all rests on what you bring into that audition room.”

Gabby agreed. “It’s all in all a pretty stressful process, especially Audition/Interview day, but it’s also the most effective way to showcase your ability,” she said.

On top of their creative skills, most students have to keep up stellar grades to go along with their application. Many of the performing arts students are busy, with after school activity and then play rehearsal at night. “Balancing school and all of these activities is extremely challenging but doable,” said Makenna. “It takes a lot of planning and focus to pull it off.”

While some students, like Mark, found their artistic passion at Williston, others have always known they wanted to pursue the arts.

“I have been dancing since I was three and I have never imagined a time where I would not be dancing, so pursuing it in college seemed like a given. The same goes for acting,” said Makenna, who has been in six dance concerts and eight theater productions, as well as many choral performances. “I have always loved to perform but Williston let me create. I got to find myself and figure out how I dance and how I act, and yes it’s cheesy but I know that without that, I wouldn’t be Makenna.”

The resources and faculty at Williston inspired these students. “Williston has really helped me grow as an artist, both through working with incredible mentors and teachers, and just giving me the space to discover my own potential,” said Gabby. “I don’t think I ever would have been able to get into Berklee if I hadn’t come to Williston, or ever realized how passionate I am about music.”

Destiny credits her school with supplying a comfortable environment to try out the arts. “Williston has given me the opportunity and safe space to pursue these avenues that I was once too shy to consider pursuing,” she said. “Here it was open, free, and I saw no reason to deny trying out the performing arts in a more serious setting than what I had been previously exposed to.”

The Williston Art Department provides a strong foundation for the school’s artists. The Grum Project, which funds talented artists visiting Williston, is a new addition to the department. The school recently hosted painter Cody Rutty, Pitch Slapped, an a capella group from Berklee, and photographer Tanja Hollander.

Not only does the art department send students out into the world, it also brings them in. “More and more we have been getting [prospective students] sending us their portfolios before they are even admitted,” said Hume. “People are becoming aware that we have a really strong program and then those kids are then interested in us.”

Sitai and Mark both credit Williston with enabling them to pursue visual arts in a way they wouldn’t be able to anywhere else. “I mean, it is really hard to find a studio,” Sitai said. “When I go back to China I have to go to my teacher’s house to study once a week, and here I can basically do whatever I want every day.”

Mark admitted that, due to their subject matter, not all of his photos have been shown in public. Hume explained that students are used to seeing art in the real world and then they create similar pieces at school, which can result in students’ work being held off from public display.

“The thing about art, especially in an educational institution, you really have to judge it by the context in which it exists,” Hume said. She tells them to wait until next year, when they can do whatever they want.

And do whatever they want they will. “Don’t be afraid to be an artist,” said Gabby. “A lot of adults in your life are going to try and push you to do something ‘practical’ or ‘well-paying’ but that’s really not everything you need in life.”

Gabby is right. Pursuing the arts is hard work—countless rehearsals, hours in the studio, and late nights spent working on schoolwork. But Williston’s visual and performing arts students love it. “If you want it, do it,” said Gabby. “It’s worth it.”

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Williston’s Arts Stars and their College Plans