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Alumni Return Home to Share Wisdom

For the past three years, the Alumni Speaker Series at Baltimore School for the Arts has brought home a variety of alumni of all stages in their careers to share insights they have gained after leaving BSA. One of the unique features of the series is that it regularly includes recent-college graduates as well alumni at the height of their careers. 

On February 8, five BSA graduates spoke about their pathways to success: Mellasenah Nicole Edwards ’13, artist, illustrator, and Brooklyn Museum fellow; Dan Gillespie ’11, who was named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 List in 2017; Kevin Gillespie ’11, leadership staffing for Google; Laurent Hrybyk ’96, BSA faculty member, illustrator, and designer; and Ayanna Shipley Washington ’04, a foreign investigative analyst with the U.S. Department of State. (Broadway performer and professional dancer Bahiyah Hibah ’92 spoke via video.)

The first speaker, Kevin Gillespie ’11, encouraged the students to take the listening test. 

“The best conversations are when we do 60 percent of the listening and 40 percent of the speaking,” he said. 

In his role at Google, Gillespie recruits leaders for multi-billion dollar product lines or initiatives. The ability to listen is one of the key attributes he looks for, because it triggers a sense of empathy, he said. For a company such as Google, that is actively looking to connect with people who looks differently than its employees, listening holds the keys to empathy and connecting.

“Practice active listening to show empathy to people you will meet over the course of your lives,” Gillespie advised. 

Mellasenah Nicole Edwards ’13, artist, illustrator, and Brooklyn Museum fellow, followed. Edwards shared her pathway after graduating college, as she was trying to build a portfolio as an illustrator. She also ended up working at the Walters Art Museum as an education assistant, specializing in early childhood development. While she was there, she heard an employee of the Brooklyn Museum give the strongest talk on cultural equity that she had ever heard. So, Edwards beat out 700 other applicants to become one of seven education fellows at the museum, where she currently works with children ages six and under. 

Daniel Gillespie ’11 spoke after Edwards. Named to Forbes’ 2017 30 Under 30 List, Gillespie started – and sold – his first tech company just a few short years after graduating high school. After leaving BSA, Daniel first attended the University of Maryland, College Park, where he started a company called Redspread with his classmate and close friend Mackenzie Burnett. Redspread built open-source software for large companies, and was acquired by CoreOs in late 2016; CoreOs was acquired by RedHat in 2018. 

Well-positioned to see the coming changes in the workforce firsthand, Daniel re-affirmed the importance of the arts. At a time of fast, transformative change, when jobs are changing or disappearing, the arts are well-placed to be successful, Daniel said.

“Arts offer a better understanding and evolution of the nature of work and modern existence,” he said. 

Daniel had some advice for BSA students, too: “Follow your interests. If you’re bored, do something else. Watch broad trends. Follow the expertise you have developed. Trust yourself.”

Broadway performer and professional dancer Bahiyah Hibah ’92 was unable to join in person because of some re-scheduling with a Fosse TV series she is working on. However, she recorded a video in advance so she could still participate. Hibah shared about her diverse career, which began in dance and expanded to acting for film, TV, and stage. 

“The possibilities are limitless,” Hibah encouraged the students. “Just because you start as a dancer doesn’t mean that there aren’t a wealth of talents inside you.”

Hibah was a good student who took academics seriously, and applied this same determination to her crafts as an artist. 

“You always have something to learn. Don’t ever stop being a student. I refused to stop learning. I have been blessed with a lot of opportunities because I stayed focused on learning,” Hibah said.

Ayanna Shipley Washington ’04, who is now in training for German and transitioning to be a foreign investigative analyst, spoke next, detailing her journey of combining her love of theater with a career in law enforcement. Washington was looking for creative ways to help her fund a college degree when she learned about becoming a role player for local law enforcement officers. In her new position, she helped law enforcement officers learn how to interact with the public, and she credits her time at BSA with teaching her how to stay in the role. Now a federal law enforcement officer herself, she is in the process of moving to Germany with her family for a new career opportunity. 

Washington exhorted the students to look for opportunities to combine their love for their art with whatever profession they choose.

BSA faculty member, illustrator, and designer Laurent Hrybyk ’96 spoke last. Hrybyk worked as a barista, cashier, delivery driver, warehouse manager, grocery clerk, secretary, house painter, and a plethora of other jobs before his career as a designer and illustrator took flight.

“All of these things translate into who I am as a designer, although I didn’t realize it at the time,” he said.

After graduating from MICA, Hrybyk sent his portfolio to dozens of magazines, but couldn’t find any work. To this day, he’s unsure if he didn’t have the drive yet or he wasn’t developed enough as an artist yet.

He knew he needed money, so he got a job at Starbucks. 

“When you start life, you don’t know where you’re going,” he said. “I had a family to feed, and I had to work.” (Hrybyk said his most important job is being a father of four.)

Despite the necessity and demands of his day time job, he kept drawing and making art. 

His first job in his chosen field was a photo editing job, and slowly illustration work began coming in. That little bit of work turned into a lot of work, and Hrybyk was finally where he wanted to be “late in my career, but it didn’t matter.”

Hrybyk also says he learned something from each of his earlier jobs that made him a better artists and teacher.

“Stay in the moment,” he told the students.

You can also watch the full speaker series on YouTube.

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