Baltimore School for the Arts alumni from all over the country returned to their alma mater on Friday to share their life lessons and tips for success in a TED-talks style symposium for current students. There were alumni from each of the school’s disciplines present to share their career journeys both inside and outside the arts.
BSA alumni reminded current students of the value of humility, hard work, character, and perseverance. Below is a brief synopsis of each of their talks. You can watch a few of their talks on this YouTube playlist.
June Jennings, Visual Arts Class of 2011
A fairly recent graduate of the school, June’s assured the students, “You are going to be fine.” In a letter to her younger self from her future self, she detailed how a visual arts major evolved into a public interest journalist. She spoke humbly about her first interview as an intern with a star from a show that rhymes with Spamilton– and the subsequent shame when it was revealed the article had multiple mistakes. She still landed her dream job at O, “only to discover it was someone else’s dream job. You’ll struggle, you’ll fail! You’ll realize you have never failed before.” June is currently working in her newly realized dream career as a documentary filmmaker, telling “the best types of stories, the ones that are true.”
Dorion Fuchs, Theatre Class of 1984
An electrical stagehand for almost 20 Broadway shows, Dorion got his start doing a wide variety of freelance work: TV, video, fashion, corporate, and dance, among others. One day a friend called him and told him there was an opportunity to get in with an up-and-coming show that was going to be big, and Dorion spent the next 6 years working on Cabaret, until 2004. Since 2013, he has been working on Beautiful. Dorion detailed the many jobs involved behind the curtain to make Broadway magic happen. “One of these jobs might be for you. It’s hard work, but you have started to get a real taste for that here.” Dorion advised our students to keep building their networks, listen more than they speak, and keep the overhead costs low. And one more piece of sage advice: “How you interact with people will get you or lose you more work than you will ever have.”
Angela Harris, Dance Class of 1996
Angela always knew she wanted to do three things with her life: she wanted to be a dancer, she wanted to be a choreographer, and she wanted to own her own company. Her parents, however, just wanted her to go to college. After two years at Mercyhurst College studying dance, she convinced her parents to let her transfer to CCNY to major in journalism and dance with companies on the side. She danced with Urban Ballet Theater, and upon graduating got jobs with the Columbia Ballet and the Georgia Ballet, among others. The Georgia Ballet, upon discovering her training in journalism, offered her a co-gig as the director of marketing and development for the company. As her career progressed, she started choreographing in Atlanta. Realizing how difficult it was for new choreographers to get their work out there, she started Dance Canvas, an organization that provides opportunities and venues to increase awareness and appreciation of dance in the Atlanta metro area. Angela told our students: “Don’t live your back-up plan. Find something that fills a need. Be nice to everyone.”
Li-Wen Kang, Music Class of 1988
Li-Wen believes that success is a combination of luck and perseverance. He came to Baltimore at the age of 14 to study the violin at BSA and Peabody. He spoke no English, and, at that time, his only contact with home was a calling card that charged exorbitant rates. He failed his first semester. “But because of the teachers here, ultimately I was accepted at Harvard.” At Harvard, he didn’t feel as much pressure, because he had already faced failure at BSA. He decided to become a banker, and yet more rejection awaited him. At one on-campus career fair, “I thought I was a big shot,” he said. “But everyone there went to Harvard.” He did land a job in investment banking, and ultimately his career took him to Manhattan, London, and Australia, before coming back to Baltimore to start a family with his wife. Currently a senior financial advisor with Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, he had solid advice for our students: “You have been given an opportunity a lot of people don’t have. Luck doesn’t mean you sit around and wait for things to happen. You have to work hard. The world recognizes hard work. You have to be in a place where you can be lucky.”
Chris Featherstone, Music Class of 2004
Chris’s professional career started while he was still a junior at the Baltimore School for the Arts, when a song he produced was released by Dru Hill. A tremendous amount of opportunities with established artists followed, and then things slowed down a bit. Chris said persistence and resourcefulness are what saw him through leaner times. He continued to go into the studio every day, playing piano gigs at night to support himself. Since then, he has won multiple awards in the music industry. He encouraged our students to be humble and have a growth mindset. “Humility is recognizing the need for growth and willing to do the work to get where you want to be.”
Karlette Fuchs, Dance Class of 1984
Karlette’s career path was not straightforward. A dance student at BSA, she continued her passion in NYU’s elite Tisch School. A side job as a server at Chanterelle enabled her to support herself, and also allowed her to network with some of the most successful artists in New York at that time. But ultimately she discovered a new passion: college counseling. Karlette returned to school and received the necessary certifications from Alfred University. In her current role at Brooklyn Collaborative School, she supports students with their college searches and is committed to their success. “It’s never a straight path and you are the sum of your experiences,” Karlette says.
Todd Harvey, Visual Arts Class of 1994
Todd told our students: “Talent is equally distributed. Opportunity is not.” Todd is the executive creative director of digital branding agency Mission Media, which he co-founded in 2000 when he was just 23 years old. Mission works with some of the leading brands in the country, including Dreamworks, STX, and Adidas. (Todd’s team also designed this website!) A series of jobs with progressive opportunities led him ultimately to start his own shop. Todd had three key pieces of advice for our students: “Earn the opportunity. Say yes to every opportunity. You will always feel ill-prepared. Act as if.”
Kwame Alston, Stage Design and Production Class of 2014
A graduating senior from Johns Hopkins University (and senior class president), Kwame spoke about developing his leadership skills during his college years as he confronted racism on campus. He reminded our students that “adversity builds character” and encouraged them to get involved on their own campuses when the time comes. He said BSA built character and “taught me perseverance and it’s the biggest lesson I could have been given.”
Adam Gorode, Music Class of 2002
The co-founder and CEO of AGW Group in Brooklyn, a marketing agency that helps big brands work in cultural spaces, Adam had a “really rocky road” to where he is now. When he left Baltimore School for the Arts, he wanted to work in the music business. During his four years at Syracuse University, he both interned at Columbia Records and was booking bands for campus shows and had an annual budget of half a million dollars. But i-Tunes was disrupting the record industry, and his dreams were slowly transforming. His last year of college he interned for the president of Fader and its owner the Cornerstone Agency. Everyone thought he was set, and his boss was a professional role model, doing the exact type of work he knew he wanted to do. But he was a “miserable failure” at the job and was fired. He ended up starting his own agency, which has received a great deal of both press and awards. But Adam cautioned BSA students to always be humble, to shed the ego, and to receive feedback without defensiveness throughout their career, even when the feedback is couched as an insult.
Aubrey Weiley, Music Class of 1994
Aubrey has spent her career using music as a social development tool to make communities stronger and healthier. After college, Aubrey went to work for the People’s Music School in Chicago, which offers people free music lessons in exchange for using their non-musical gifts to help the nonprofit in other ways. She eventually became its director. After a serving in Peace Corps in Africa, upon her return she was told by her violin teacher about El Sistema, a social program in Venezeula using music to address crime and poverty. She went to work for El Sistema, and then OrchKids here in Baltimore. Currently she is working on the Breakthrough Curriculum at the Peabody Institute. She told our students: “You are role models because of the work you do. Find a way to share this gift with others.”