Lydia Graham is a 2016 Danville Independent Schools graduate working toward a master of music degree in vocal arts at The Julliard School in New York City. She is an opera singer, and during each spring break she has, she returns to Danville to perform and show her old hometown what she’s been learning. Many of her former teachers show up at these performances. Graham is also involved as a leader in a couple of church groups and is a leader on campus at Julliard. She shared her experience with Danville Schools.
Q: Tell us about your Danville Schools journey. What school(s) did you attend, and what’s a highlight that stands out to you?
I started school at Toliver in third grade and then went from there to Bate to DHS, where I graduated.
Q: What aspects of your Danville Schools education helped mold you into the person you are today?
The very biggest influencer from Danville Schools on who I am today is the Forensics program, which I joined in middle school and was very competitive in all throughout my high school career. Being a performer as my profession, forensics taught me how to hold a room and create meaningful art that always has my own stamp on it. It also gave me lots of experience in competition and how to show my best work in a time frame that is 10 minutes or less. Now, every opera audition I take usually gives me a time slot of about eight minutes to sing for the panel.
Q: When you think back on your Danville Schools experience, are there specific instances or relationships that stand out to you as having had a significant impact on your success since graduating?
My teachers at Danville Schools are definitely what I cherish the most about my time there and are still some of my biggest supporters. For instance, I am performing my Juilliard Graduation Recital next Saturday here in NYC, and both Steve Meadows, former head coach of DHS forensics, and Christel Belcher, former assistant head coach of DHS forensics, will be in attendance. In addition, I just had coffee two weeks ago with Cheryl Gibson, my sixth grade French teacher; lunch over Christmas break with Mona MacCormack, my high school German teacher; lunch over Christmas break as well with Beth Marlowe, my middle/high school forensics coach/director. Also, at my recital that I performed over spring break in Danville, I saw Scott Walker, sixth grade technology teacher, now JWBMS and DHS choir teacher; Lydia Ellis, who was my middle school librarian; and John Erwin, elementary virtual teacher. These former teachers are truly my biggest supporters and mentors to this day, and I am forever grateful that Danville Schools gave me them.
Q: As a product of Danville Schools, what advice would you give to a parent who was choosing an education path for their child?
Danville Schools is a true community, and each school is small enough that I believe every student feels seen and cared for and supported for years in ways that larger schools may not offer — at least this was my experience. Danville Schools offer an array of paths for students to go down — tons of sports, Advanced Placement courses, art classes, music programs, forensics/drama, physics/robotics, and the list goes on. Though small, I believe Danville Schools offers a corner for every student to find their community and passion and a loving community to support them in it.
Q: As a product of Danville Schools, what drives you to give back to your local school and/or district?
Just two weeks ago, Scott Walker invited me to come give a masterclass to the DHS choir class and a few eighth grade ladies, and my answer was an absolute YES! It is a joy to give current DHS students experiences I didn't have. When I was at Danville Schools, the choral program was really struggling with a different teacher about every year. This really stunk for me, someone who literally wanted to be an opera singer. But now, with Scott Walker teaching and support from the administration, I'm eager to see students have experiences I only dreamed of and to continue to watch that and be part of it in the future!
This piece is part of an ongoing series telling the stories of our Danville Alumni! We share a new alumni story once a month, and we want YOUR story. If you or someone you know is a Danville graduate and an excellent representative of the Danville community and the idea of #SuccessForALL, whether they live in Danville or not, please fill out the form linked below. You can also show your Danville Alumni pride on social media with the hashtag #DanvilleAlumniStories
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