SpotlightYouth Spotlight

When we met Andrew O’Neill at the Congressional Award Gold Ceremony in 2014, we were impressed by what he had accomplished to earn his Gold Medal and were interested in learning more about him. Inspired by combining technology and outdoor leadership, Andrew attended Green Mountain College and majored in Adventure Education and Youth Development and Camp Management.

Andrew has put to good use the skills he’s learned in various endeavors, whether he’s building websites and creating a food program, working as a camp manager, editing videos, or learning a new language. Andrew’s curiosity is limitless, and he explores his interests and follows his heart. Read on to learn more about the different projects Andrew is involved in, his top three tips for learning a new language, and the advice he’d give his younger self.

Name: Andrew O’Neill
Education:
Double Major in Adventure Education and Youth Development and Camp Management (YDCM) at Green Mountain College
Follow:
WebsiteTwitterPinterest

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define “Seizing Your Youth”?

Andrew O’Neill: Young adults have a tendency to be afraid to dream big. Seizing your youth means taking chances toward your current dreams at any age.

CJ: You double majored in Adventure Education and Youth Development and Camp Management (YDCM) at Green Mountain College. How did you decide what to study?

AO: I took a two week-long canoe trip in the Canadian wilderness, and I thought it would be cool to follow a career path similar to the guides on that trip. At the time, I knew I was highly interested in the realm of technology and computers as a potential career, but I did not like the thought of being stuck inside all the time at a computer. I was inspired by the life that the guides on the canoe trip enjoyed that I looked into schools that specialized in outdoor leadership.

CJ: What cause or issue do you care greatly about and why?

AO: I have strong feelings towards the practice of factory farming. As a lifelong vegetarian, I have continued to learn and become more passionate about the abuse of farm animals at these farms and the negative health and environmental issues that this practice is causing on the planet. The way we are treating the animals that we are eating, which we should not be at all in my opinion, has a direct influence on how we are treating each other as humans. I believe that the brutality of factory farm operations correlates to why there are so many horrible acts of war currently happening in our society. I am extremely passionate about this subject and have created a website, ameatfreemonth.org, which aims to provide anyone with a free healthy 30 day vegan eating program to help steer them away from the addictions of eating animal products.

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CJ: You earned the Congressional Award Gold Medal in 2014. How did you get involved with the Congressional Award and what was your biggest takeaway from the experience?

AO: My mother, who has been a long-time Girl Scout troop leader and an all around incredible person, found out about this program through a student she worked with at Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School. Within less than a year, I had signed up and was already working toward the Bronze Certificate. Earning this medal has made me realize that I will always be interested in learning new skills and to never stop challenging myself. Participating in all four program areas has helped me to become a well-rounded person excited to guide future youth through the program.

CJ: That’s awesome! We completely agree and support the learning of new skills. You have been a camp counselor and camp manager at Hawthorne Valley Farm Camp – what did you learn from those experiences?

AO: As a camp counselor, I learned about the psychological and social challenges that can arise while working with youth. Often, I was around campers all day and even when exhausted, had to be careful with my words and actions so that I could set a good example for the campers to look up to. The following year, as a camp manager, I was pushed into new challenging roles that helped me to understand the different aspects of running a camp. The camp director was new the year I managed, so I was placed in a more challenging role being a support to the director. In this higher role, I wrote and submitted our entire camp safety manual, created a new scheduling system for the camp that I used to create the actual camp schedules each week. Additionally, I started and maintained a camp newsletter, served as a primary contact for parents during camp, and compiled a camp recipe book that has been in high demand for many years. Essentially, I now feel I have gained the skills necessary to open a camp of my own.

CJ: You are passionate about video editing and have produced promotional videos for a 3D printing shop in Vermont. What sparked this passion and how did you learn video editing skills?

AO: My passion for video editing goes back to when I was a kid. It all started when I was able to buy my first video camera and connect it to my father’s laptop. Around my senior year in high school, my parents gave me a Cannon HD camcorder, and my uncle bought me a laptop for college. This enabled me to begin working on small projects that explored new ways to edit videos. Ever since this experience, I have taken on more challenging projects that have pushed me to expand my editing skills. All of my video editing skills have been self-taught and all from the small and large projects I have completed over the years.

CJ: You taught yourself how to speak Spanish. What are your top three tips for learning a new language? Is there another language you plan on learning?

AO:

  1. Immerse yourself in a country where they only speak the language you are trying to learn.
  2. Read news articles or listen to songs of interest in the language.
  3. Most importantly, be consistent!

I do plan on learning Japanese and already have a computer program called Human Japanese that I plan on using.

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CJ: What is an area, either personal or professional, that you are working to improve in and how?

AO: I am working on improving my health by transitioning to a totally raw mostly fruit diet and practicing regular yoga. Additionally, I am reading books about the fruitarian diet, and journaling everyday to help myself reflect on my day-to-day life.

CJ: Having a loaded schedule can sometimes be overwhelming. What do you do when you’re having a bad day and need to unwind or reset?

AO: My trick is simple, I rely heavily on my ability to be optimistic and always be able to find the positive in any situation. Almost always I am able to pause and just do a simple reflection and feel better. Additionally, I will find myself eating something special that I don’t always eat, but that is still in line with my diet.

CJ: What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

AO: There is no time like now to do whatever your heart desires. Answers and opportunities can often be found simply by networking. Every person is a human so don’t be afraid to interact, reach out, and make new connections.

Andrew Oneill Qs

Image: Andrew O’Neill

CultureTravel

“Where are you from?” she asked with a confidence that rapidly dwindled into embarrassment when I responded, “I was born here.” The awkward pause that causes eyes to wander, skin to prickle, and blood to rush is quickly relieved by the “but my parents are Colombian.” She seems to breathe again and feel the comfort she was familiar with six seconds before she had asked me the line-drawing question. My parents were born and raised in Colombia, but I was born and raised in Weston, a Fort Lauderdale suburb. Answering the following questions almost makes me feel like an actor rehearsing my lines for the millionth time. Yes, I am bilingual; yes, I have traveled to Colombia; in fact, I visit every summer and my profound attachment to the country has made the declaring of myself “American” unfit, yet, classification of myself “Colombian” slightly uncomfortable.

I knew I couldn’t be the only one with this dilemma, and it became an even more prevalent confusion in my junior year of high school when I chose “White” on my answer sheet through the process of elimination. I am not Indian, Asian, African or biracial, and choosing “other” at the time seemed more like giving up in how to identify myself rather than making a statement; leaving “white” as my last option. But I asked myself, “Do they mean ‘skin-color-white’? Or ‘I-was-born- in-America- white’?” I justified my answer by reminding myself that my father has white skin and green eyes, so, I chose “white” when, in reality, I have dark olive/tan skin. While I could have easily bubbled-in “Other,” at that moment, I chose to identify with my American self. But this was not always the case.

I have spent years trying to decipher this mystery. Am I both? Am I neither? What am I and where am I really from? For years I have felt absolutely uneasy with the idea of trying to label myself one or the other. However, being raised in South Florida has made it much easier to answer the black-or-white-question, “where are you from,” in a grey form. If the U.S. is a melting pot, South Florida is a recycled city bench. The amount of South American, Central American, European, Caribbean, and Middle Eastern communities in that region is astounding. More specifically, in my particular city, Venezuelans and Colombians are even more heavily concentrated. Most of my friends and people of association were either fully American or first or second generation immigrants from Colombia or Venezuela.

In light of this, to those who were first generation immigrants, I was an “American” and those who were second generation immigrants like me thought of me as “Colombian.” Likewise, I am considered Hispanic in this country but considered Gringa, or American, in Colombia – or any other country for that matter. This points directly to how easily others can perceive you, and many times, it may not be in correlation with how you see yourself. It all depends on adaptation and just how much those who have foreign-born parents or immigrants themselves have accustomed to the very-American, semi-American, or in my case, almost Hispanic-colonial-based culture. It has to do with what exactly the person has chosen to integrate into their lives, and what they reject as something they don’t want in their lives. In other words, it is very possible to create one’s own culture, per say, and develop one’s own identification.

Having parents from a different country than the one I was born and raised in means I have Carlos Vives and Frank Sinatra downloaded onto my iPod. It means I am the vegetarian that gets confused looks when I order only a side of red beans with rice and a pandebono at Colombian restaurants. It means that I speak the truly convenient and creative Spanglish language with my friends and US-born-family members, yet, jot down any unfamiliar English word in my agenda to look up and learn later. It means that when I am in the U.S., I will miss Juan Valdez Coffee and when in Colombia, I will think of how many free Starbucks drinks I am missing out on every 12 days. It means I chose to stuff my luggage with a stash of home-made frozen arepas to cook for breakfast instead of swiping my ID card at the college dining hall every morning. It means I criticize both American and Colombian governments and societies. It means I felt the knife in my heart that Saturday afternoon when I abandoned my unfinished homework to protest for a better Venezuelan government in snowy Boston. It means I had to unwillingly part from my cousin at the airport only to wait two hours for her because owning a blue passport unshackles me from having to bear the immigration process. It means that I am a daughter of the breath-taking mountainous rock that veins Colombia and a daughter of the Miami concrete jungle that is arranged as an unending labyrinth. It means many, many things, but it most importantly means that I am a little bit of both cultures and I find my balance in what I create it to be.

Figuring out just where to draw the line in your opinions, practices, and beliefs is where that balance is created. The next time somebody asks you where you are from, strapping yourself to one label is unnecessary; even when you find yourself surrounded by people who are of a certain nation or have decided their ethos, you can craft your own identification through a medium of what you have been exposed to.

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

Have you ever stumbled upon a Twitter feed where you find yourself 10 minutes later still laughing and scrolling through the tweets? This happened to us with Lyndsay Rush and her hilarious observations and comments. How she manages to make every day occurrences so funny in just 140 characters is a mystery to us, but we’ll happily continue reading and laughing.

Besides her obvious comedy chops, Lyndsay Rush is also a talented writer. She is a columnist for HelloGiggles, SheKnows, and The Everygirl, as well as a copywriter. Storytelling and writing has been a passion for Lyndsay ever since she was little, and she has honed her skills through different mediums – film, Spanish, and blogging. We’re huge fans of Lyndsay’s columns, as well as the advice and lessons she shares. With her great sense of humor, emphasis on being thankful, and dedication to her craft, Lyndsay definitely seizes her youth.

Name: Lyndsay Rush
Age: 31
Education: Bachelor of Arts, University of Kansas
Follow: Twitter / BrandBurst

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?

Lyndsay Rush: I think being aware and present and thankful for where you are in life is a trick that benefits everyone. As for seizing your youth, it’s so fantastic when you’re young to go big. Try new things, embrace what freaks you out, ask a lot of questions. Befriend failure because it means you’re out there, it means you’re making the most of life.

CJ: You went to college at the University of Kansas and studied Film and Spanish. How did you determine what to study?

LR: I always laugh at this, since it seems so random. But my justification now is that I knew I loved storytelling, I just chose the wrong medium (film) and I always loved language, I just focused on the wrong one (Spanish). But I wouldn’t change a thing. I still adore the Spanish language, and when I stumbled into copywriting, I found that having a unique background was actually appealing to clients and employers, because my tone of voice was different from someone who studied marketing or journalism, for example.

CJ: What sparked your love of writing?

LR: I have been writing since I was little. My mom had my siblings and me keep journals from the moment we learned how to read and write (which, ahem, for me was 4 years old. Child genius alert, I know.) So I learned at a really young age how fun it was to tell stories. And then when I quit my job in finance 3 years after college, I started a blog about being unemployed, and really found my storytelling and humor voice. That silly little blog ended up getting some serious traction and I eventually used it as a way to get other work, leading to my career today.

CJ: You are a columnist for Hello Giggles, The Everygirl, and SheKnows. What is your writing process and where/how do you find inspiration for articles?

LR: I’d say it is a mix of my original ideas, and then specific stories pitched to me by my editors. I’m so thankful, at all of these publications, for editors who really “get” me and let me try new things or go in directions that might be off the beaten path. It’s seriously the most fun job ever.

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CJ: You are also a freelance copywriter for a number of different companies. What does being a copywriter entail?  

LR: Basically anything that businesses might need written, I write. From web copy, to naming products and services, to taglines and slogans, to ads, to social media, to bios to emails…there is so much that businesses need to communicate, and it all has to be specific to who they want to reach, which in turn feeds how they need to speak (write.) At the beginning of launching out on my own, I literally took anyone who would pay me. I was just stunned that I was getting paid to put words together. It was so dreamy. But then as I’ve gotten deeper into the field, I’ve been able to hone in on what I love the most, and only accept projects and companies that want my specific tone (conversational, witty, unexpected). This is a real treat, because I get to do what comes most natural to me.

CJ: You are an incredible, relatable, and hilarious writer. Your Twitter feed, in particular, is smart and laugh out loud funny. How does humor influence your writing, and how can one improve their humor writing skills?

LR: First of all, thank you, that’s so kind. Secondly, you’re right I am hilarious. Kidding. But really, I think observation is the key to humor. I think the best comedians and humorists are able to see at a layer deeper than the average person. They point out and heighten things that we may have missed but that always make us go, “That is SO true!” It also helps to keep track of the people you think are funny, and see how they write certain jokes, or tell certain stories. There is so much to learn from others and being well read is a huge help. Some people think that if you read other humorous writing that you will be tempted to emulate them and lose your voice, but I disagree. I don’t think people can fake being funny; I think it just feeds into your overall experience in life and adds different notes to your writing.

CJ: What are the greatest lessons you have learned from being a writer?

LR: This is tough, but I think a big lesson I have learned along the way is that the more people there are reading your stuff, the more negative feedback you’ll get. This is just a numbers game. When I started writing for Hello Giggles, for example, and thousands of people were reading my articles, those were some of the first times I had gotten really nasty comments from readers. Similarly with bigger websites I’ve written. People love to hate stuff. We are a bunch of haters, these days. But try to focus on those who love what you have done, and then if (this is a big IF) there is actual constructive criticism in the comments or feedback, take that and grow. It’s all an opportunity to grow and get better and throw it in those haters’ faces. Just kidding. Mostly.

CJ: What is the best part about being a writer? The most challenging part?

LR: Best part for me being a freelancer is working in my pajamas. Most challenging part is being self-motivated, organized, and disciplined so that you get that work done…even if it’s while in your robe.

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CJ: What does a day in your life look like?

LR: This is going to make me look so un-glamorous, because I can be a kind of nerdy introvert. But I wake up, make coffee (a must,) get out my to-do list for the day (I am still old school on this, I write those suckers down. Nothing is more satisfying than crossing something off a list with a pen. Nothing!), and then I prioritize what needs to be done and when. Then I check and answer emails, and then get to work. If I have a big project starting that day I will go work form a coffee shop, since a change of scenery sometimes helps spark my brain. I take breaks whenever I need to, to ride my bike or meet a friend for lunch, or watch a show. I LOVE and thrive on a flexible schedule and consider it a luxury that I don’t have to be creative in that dastardly 9-5 window. I work a lot of nights with wine, especially if I’ve given myself the afternoon to play.

CJ: What should a teenager or young adult who wants to be a writer do now to set themselves up for success?

LR: Read a lot. And take notes on anything that you observe that catches your interest. Take classes! Improv classes and writing classes. Pay attention to what your heroes are doing. Write every day, even if it’s minor, even if it’s 3 jokes about current events, or one line of dialogue. Have a time and place where you write and stick to it. If you truly care about it, prove it by making time for it and doing the work.

CJ: When you aren’t crafting clever tweets or writing your columns, how do you like to spend your time?

LR: I love to travel. Because I work for myself, I can go on trips and still get work done, while taking in a new culture. I like riding my red bike around Chicago and checking out new coffee shops and bakeries. I really enjoy improv and sketch shows, iO and Second City in Chicago, and UCB in New York. My dream night is a dinner party on a friend’s patio. Oh, and I consider myself a nail artist. Probably change my polish 3-4 times a week like a total psycho.

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CJ: What motivates you in your everyday life?

LR: Hope, change, god, relationships, chips.

CJ: What’s next for you?

LR: Ideally, I would be writing for television. Either late night shows as a monologue writer or for sitcoms, or awards shows. That’s my next big plan, at least.

CJ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

LR: I would tell her to stop trying to please other people. And to really stop worrying what other people thought; to be a little more open-minded and daring, and to put away her credit card. I would also tell her to cut it out with the tanning already.

CultureTravel

Wanderlust coursed through my 15-year-old veins when I was given the option to travel and either explore the depths of a few European countries or the few hotspots of many countries. Of course, I chose the second alternative. Perhaps it was the naive desperation to check off more countries on my map of travelled places or the craving to be impressed by Europe’s must-see cities. But I then realized that I just wanted to witness Rome’s grandiosity as one of the birthplaces of classicism and breathe the glamorous Parisian air. London lingered in my thoughts with an image of wild print on fabric, charming accents, and tea breaks in-between exciting landmark sight-seeing tours. But London was not my favorite destination. Neither was Rome or Paris or Madrid. Maybe I was lucky, but having three free days Spain gave me the opportunity impulsively decide to take a stranger’s advice and visit multiple towns in Asturias, a northern region of the country. It turns out life has more treasures than the ones sitting in the chest.

Bruges may have had me at whimsical Spanish moss floating over unaligned, rustic, and ancient brick roads; but Cudillero had me at that dead-end parking spot, making walking our last resort into the vehicle-prohibited town. In order to reach the boardwalk that led to the town, walking through an unusually located car show between two cliffs was obligatory. Miles away from Cudillero’s entrance, “Stereolove” by Edward Maya & Vika Jigulina almost pulverized my eardrum. There were about 200 teens, young adults, and middle-aged men and women who were all undoubtedly there to display their unique Lamborghinis and Ferraris, mingling, and somehow chattering through the music. An amalgamation of two stark different atmospheres is what I had yet to notice. “Completely historic, not quite; absolutely modern, neither; wannabe Barcelona in the middle of nowhere, definitely,” I thought as we managed to squirm around the car enthusiasts.

A long narrow path sandwiched between cliff and sea awaited us. Concrete sidewalk corrupted the untouched serene water that held homage to the picturesque sailboats. The sun was fogged away by the opaque clouds. White sailboats sat beside wooden canoes latched onto the wooden docks by a ratty beige rope. Step after step, I snapped picture after picture and stood facing the silent water as I ingested the novelty that was somehow before me. From a totally bizarre car show to an impossibly picture-perfect scenery, I still couldn’t believe there was a sea of 3-D printed Van Gough sailboats to my left, psychedelic beats behind me, obscure fog 100 feet in front of me, and towering cliffs to my right. I wondered how this combination was even conceivable.

A few feet away was a scruffy fisherman who lightly tossed his turquoise cloth bag behind his shoulders. Behind him was a tall man impeccably dressed in a white suit who held his lover’s hand, garbed in eye-snatching Gaultier couture.  And I, in my emerald suede flats, truly effortless jeans, and plain H&M sweater marveled at what kind of place this was. Surely, this boardwalk led us all to the same panorama – a ginormous fungus-infested concrete ramp that brought the colorful building squares with matchless windows into the sea. It was the oddest place I had ever been to with only one primary entrance. Anyone who entered the town came out the same way – over the now-modernized narrow bridge. Vibrant neon moss stuck itself to the bottom of my flats and outlined the edges like a piece of abstract art. Cold, humid air reached the depths of my lungs like two strangers meeting in symbiosis. I could say that this was the beginning of an experience to an indescribable dream, but one thing was for sure: there was no place like it.

I never would have expected my journey to an unheard of village to be more enjoyable than a trip across Europe. The next time you plan a trip, don’t forget to leave a few days open for hidden gems. Their anonymous nature may seem like quite the dare, but here are a few tips to make them happen and to make the best of them:

  1. Never be afraid of unplanned detours.

Say you have your trip planned down to the minute. Incorporate free time into your itinerary. Take a minute or two to ask a few locals about their favorite places to visit in that country (or area). Chances are that it is not a tourist hotspot. Grab a map, do some internet research, and begin filling in that free time.

  1. Reservations have their cons.

Restaurants, activities, and lodging bookings may sound comforting when travelling to an unfamiliar place, but the fine print? They may tie you down. Always expect the unexpected because travel delays and mood shifts will always happen. Embrace a bit of spontaneity and don’t be afraid to show up in a town or city with an open agenda. Unless you’re in Russia during the next World Cup, book your night stay on the day-of and take the freedom of paving your own journey day-by-day.

  1. Expect unconventional means of transportation, breath-taking scenery, and authentic everything.

Prepare for anything when it comes to methods of transit as they are endless and still very much alive. Ferries, canoes, trains, mini-planes, and even walking may replace driving. This journey will certainly teach you a little something about photography, so always keep a camera on-hand. If you’re abroad and leaving the tourist centers, it should go unsaid that not everyone will speak your native tongue and that’s always a fun challenge. Once again, don’t worry – it’s amazing to see where other forms of communication can take you.

Food, of course, is important to many. You may find ease in that safety dish that happened to be Americanized such as the margarita pizza, but take a chance and leave your comfort zone. Taste the culture! You may remember that Italy has great pasta, but you will never forget that tiny, almost unnoticeable, trattoria that served that one-of-a-kind basil-sautéed penne with herbs that grew in that restaurant’s own garden!

Off-the-map doesn’t mean off-your-trip. If you really want to get to know a country, visit the outskirts.  They definitely make for the most memorable, exquisite, and unexpected adventures!

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

As huge jazz fans, we are so impressed with Jazz musician and trumpet player Alex Owen. After graduating from Connecticut College, Alex moved to New Orleans to work with a non-profit geared toward ending housing discrimination in Louisiana. He eventually started a band called the Messy Cookers – aptly named after his own sloppy cooking technique – and they’ve been playing together ever since. Although he now loves music and plays jazz for a living, Alex shares his advice on why never closing doors on opportunities, even at a young age, can lead you to your passion down the line. We are excited to introduce Alex Owen!

Name: Alex Owen
Age: 24
Education: BA in International Relations and Hispanic Studies from Connecticut College, High School Columbia Prep.
Follow: Facebook

How do you define ‘seizing your youth’?

I would define it as going out and doing what you love. I don’t think there is an age limit, or minimum, to trying to make your dream happen. When I hear the term “seizing your youth,” I think of having the opportunity to try things out and see what happens. Sometimes it’s a risk, but if you don’t take those risks now, then when will you?

What did you major in at Connecticut College and how did you determine what to study?

At Connecticut College I majored in International Relations and Hispanic Studies, and I minored in Music. I also was part of the CISLA program. I picked my majors just based on what classes I wanted to take. I had studied Spanish in high school and I wanted to continue to learn the language and become proficient, and I really liked the interdisciplinary focus of the IR major. It just seemed that the majors seemed to fit what I wanted to study. Of course, I wanted to play music as well, so the minor just seemed to fit what I was interested in.

What or who inspired you to become a jazz musician?

I think what inspired me was really just to follow my passion. I don’t think I ever sat down and thought, “I want to be a jazz musician.” I loved playing traditional jazz music at Connecticut College where I first discovered this music, and I also loved being in the jazz ensemble. I wanted to move to New Orleans because I knew they had a great scene for traditional jazz, but I wasn’t sure in what capacity I was going to play.

When I moved to New Orleans, I actually was part of a fellowship program called AVODAH, where I spent a year working full-time at the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, a non-profit working to end housing discrimination in Louisiana. It wasn’t until about mid-way through my first year that I started the Messy Cookers Jazz band and started to find gigs and get a little bit of work. I realized that I really loved the music, and while I also loved the work I was doing at the Fair Housing center, I really wanted to focus on getting better. It became apparent that if I wanted to gig more and get more work, it wouldn’t be feasible to work full time and try to focus on both things. After I started to get work, I decided that I could really be a jazz musician, and that’s when I decided to focus on it and teach music part time.

Tell me about your college bands The Endpiece and Funk the Police. How have those experiences shaped your current music?

Those were some really great bands to be a part of. When I look back at my college experience, some of the fondest memories I had were from those two bands. I think those experiences were incredibly helpful because they taught me so much about being in a band and what the dynamics are like. One thing I learned from being a musician is that it takes so much work to make the music great. You have to practice, you have to find different roles, and you have to learn how to create chemistry with your other band mates in order to make great music. I’ve found that in any style or genre of music, this is true.

You also have to be able to find common ground among different personalities. While I don’t play the style of music that those two bands played anymore, I still take what I learned from those bands about working together with other musicians to make great music, and it’s something I use every time I play with people today.

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How do you stay motivated on-stage night after night of performing?

It’s definitely tough to do this. It’s certainly easier when you are playing a crowded venue. The hard thing to do is really be on your game when it’s the third or fourth set and it’s a slow night. I think what makes some musicians truly great is that they play the same way whether there are 100 people in the place, or two people. I really try to focus on just making great music at all times and I try not to worry about the crowd. Obviously, I’m always paying attention to the crowd, especially when I’m the bandleader. But once we pick a song and we get into it, I try to block it out and just try to make great music. Ultimately, that’s the most gratifying thing, and it’s something that I could do every day for the rest of my life.

Where does your band name, Messy Cookers Jazz Band, come from?

Ha-ha, this is a pretty funny question. I was making a comment to myself the first year down here that when I was cooking, I made a pretty big mess. I lived on campus all four years of college, so I never really learned how to cook before I moved down to New Orleans. All of a sudden, I realized that I had to cook for myself, so I learned the basics and was able to get by. I guess my technique was still a little sloppy. I was cooking for my housemates one night and I made the comment about how I was a messy cooker. My roommate Jeremy was walking by, and he went “I think I just found your band name.” The name was just too good to pass up.

How does living in New Orleans inspire your music?

I think living here is great because to play the music I want to play, which is traditional New Orleans jazz, I’m able to learn from the best. There are great musicians still working all the time today, who themselves came up playing with and learning from some of the all-time greats. It’s really a privilege to be able to hear them play on almost any given day or night, and to occasionally have opportunities to play with them. I think hearing what they have to say, and listening to the way they approach the music, is key for me to also try and play this music. I try to utilize their advice in every gig I play.

What is one of the greatest lessons you have learned from being a musician?

There are a lot of good lessons I’ve learned. One is definitely how to take criticism and how to take rejection. Every musician is going to have self-doubt, get yelled at on a bandstand for making a mistake or not knowing a song, get fired from a gig, or get turned down for a gig. It’s very discouraging, but the best thing to do is trust in yourself and trust in your ability. I’ve found that during the tough times, trusting myself has allowed me to stay positive, remain focused, and continue to make great music.

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What is the biggest challenge with being a musician? The best part?

There are a few challenges with being a musician. I’d say one challenge being unsure know when your next paycheck will be coming in. Especially as someone that is new to town, I’ve gotten a lot of gigs last minute. Since I’m still trying to establish myself, I’m in a position where if I can make a gig, I take it. It’s definitely hard to adjust your schedule last minute. The schedule can also be grueling. Working nights can be really hard, especially since I teach during the day. You really have to alter your life schedule to fit your work. Sometimes this means trying to eat a big meal to last you the 4-5 hours you will be out since you don’t have access to food. Other times, this means trying to hang out with friends during the day because when they are free night, this is when I’m working.

On the flip side, the best part of being a musician is that it’s greatest job in the world! I get to make awesome music, something I would do anyway in my free time, and then I get paid for it. I’ve been fortunate to get work with some world-class musicians, which is an awesome experience. There are many nights when I can’t believe I’m sharing a bandstand with some of these people. It’s also gratifying when you can tell that you’ve touched people with your music.  When I’ve just spent a night making music that you know was great music, and people come up to me and tell me how much they enjoyed it, that really makes it gratifying.

Any tips for learning how to play an instrument?

The biggest tip I can give is to be patient. Something I tell my beginning band students all the time is that Louis Armstrong didn’t sound like Louis Armstrong when he first started playing. Music is like a totally new language; nobody just wakes up a genius. Everyone works at it and tries to make new strides. When you are learning a new instrument, take pride in whatever progress you make, however small, and focus on achieving each milestone. Eventually, before you even realize it, you will start sounding better and playing an instrument will become more fun.

How do you overcome self-doubt (or stage fright?)

Like learning an instrument, this comes with practice. The more gigs I play, the more confident I become in myself, and the easier it is to overcome stage fright. Stage fright, and self-doubt, is a part of being a performer, and is something that becomes easier with practice. Whenever I get nervous, I also try to remember that there is a reason I’m on the bandstand. If I’m a sideman, I try to focus on the fact that someone called me to play the gig with him or her, so I must be doing something right. As a bandleader, I try to remember that the venue likes us enough to hire us, and the people I’ve hired like playing with me enough to want to play with me, otherwise they would’ve said no.

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What advice do you have for youth who want to be professional musicians?

My advice is to go for it. If you feel it’s what you want to do, and it’s what you are most passionate about, then absolutely go for it and don’t hold back. People are definitely going to tell you that you can’t do it, or that it’s not stable, etc. These are things that almost all professional artists face at one point. If you are driven enough and determined enough, you can sustain the bumps in the road and make it happen. It’s also ok to take a part-time job or do something on the side to make ends meet, even if it’s not exactly the work you want to be doing. I’ve been lucky enough to find work teaching music, which is something I love and plan to pursue, but I know other musicians and other artists who’ve had all types of weird jobs not related to their art. As long as it doesn’t directly interfere with your art, I say there’s nothing wrong with getting a job to pay the bills.

What do you do when you’re not making music?

I really enjoy spending time outdoors. I’m fortunate that New Orleans has a temperate climate (other than the summer), which allows me to go running, spend time in parks, and generally do activities outside. I also spend time with my girlfriend, watch TV shows, and spend time with friends.

What does a day in your life look like?

Ha-ha, depends on the day! Usually my weekdays consist of teaching during the day. I have a little break in the afternoon, where I usually exercise and get other work done (the work never stops for musicians). If I have a gig that night I’ll eat an early dinner, warm up a little, prep for the gig, and head down early to set up. If not, I’ll either go to hear other bands and sit in, or just hang out and rest. The weekends are mostly about gigs. If I don’t have a daytime gig, I can run errands, hang out with friends, and then go to my gig later. However, some weekends I just spend it running from gig to gig. The great thing about being a musician is that no two days are the same!

What motivates you in your everyday life?

I always just try to be the best person I can be. Whether I’m playing music or not, I always try to be nice to others, to spend quality time with other people, and to be true to my craft.

What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

I would definitely tell myself that music isn’t dorky, that I should be pursuing it. I think at 15, I really was into sports, and not so much into music. Playing trumpet was more of a chore my parents made me do (and I’m glad they made me do it), and I wish I had treated it differently. I think a lot of this was that I didn’t realize how much fun playing was, and I didn’t think it was that cool.

Image: Hot Steamed Jazz Festival; all others from Alex Owen

SpotlightYouth Spotlight

As the former president of Zeta Tau Alpha at New York University, Nicole Gartside has really learned how to manage her time and energy. Being a sorority president is a huge responsibility, but Nicole takes care of business with grace and an upbeat attitude. While also being a student and writer, Nicole has worked on figuring out how to balance her schedule while also having a bit of fun. Since she has stepped down from her role as president, Nicole is now working as an editorial intern at Good Housekeeping magazine, has become a member of Order of Omega (an academic honor organization for Greeks), and will be gearing up for graduation in May! Read on to learn more about Nicole’s motivations, how she manages her time, and how she got involved with Greek life in the first place.

Name: Nicole Gartside
Age: 20
Education: Current Student at New York University
Follow: Twitter | Blog | Zeta Tau Alpha NYU

How do you define ‘seizing your youth’?

I think that when you’re young – especially in this day and age – there are so many different opportunities arising. I think seizing your youth is seizing those opportunities and not waiting until you’re older. I have a lot of friends in college back home who just want to party with friends and worry about real life later, and I guess in their mind they’re seizing their youth. However, in my mind, seizing your youth means taking advantage of the opportunities you get when you’re younger before you have actual responsibilities to deal with, such as paying bills.

What are you majoring in at New York University and how did you determine what to study?

I’m majoring in English and Journalism. I came into college not knowing what I wanted to do when I graduated, but I know I like writing and I’ve done interviewing and journalism, so I figured that was a good place to start. I wanted to do something general enough so I could go wherever the wind takes me.

Where have you interned and how did you go about securing those internships?

I’ve interned at a bunch of different small companies throughout the year. I interned at a local online publication in my hometown where I did profiles of people in my community. I got that internship through a friend of a friend who worked at the magazine.

I worked for an online magazine for women in college called Her Campus. A friend of mine had written for Her Campus so I applied online and sent in some clips from my blog. I actually had articles get picked up by The Huffington Post and U.S.A. Today, which was really cool.

I interned last semester at Seventeen Magazine. I was a beauty intern. I just Googled “How to apply for a Seventeen Magazine internship” and sent in my application in the mail, which no one does anymore.

This semester I’m taking off from interning so I have a little more time for school and Zeta stuff. I do part-time voice-over work for law school online classes, which is so fun.

How do you balance interning and being a college student?

For me it was a matter of prioritizing and being realistic of my time schedule. If I don’t have a lot to do I tend to be a procrastinator and I’ll take forever to do them. But when I was interning from 9am-6pm, I really had to factor that into my day and get my assignments done.

I also try not to over-commit myself to too many things. It’s more important to me to commit to a few things rather than commit to a lot of different things but not doing them very well because of lack of time. I lost my mind when I was doing too many things last semester, which is why this semester I took a step back. If you’re going to commit, commit all the way.

Where did you study abroad? What was your big takeaway from studying abroad and do you think it was worth it?

I studied abroad just in the summer in Madrid. I wanted to go because I wanted to finally work on my Spanish. I’ve been studying Spanish since fourth grade. I went to live with a host family. I thought studying abroad was worth it so I could study another culture, feel more comfortable with the language, and learn to be on my own. It was terrifying at first but I learned a lot and I’m really glad I went.

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You are the president of NYU Zeta Tau Alpha (ZTA). What does being president of a sorority mean and what do your presidential duties entail?

The actual title and duties are to make sure that everyone is satisfied with their overall Zeta experience and to make sure all the positions are doing their job. The better everyone else is doing their job, the less I actually have to do.

I have to be the liaison between our chapter and the fraternity sorority life community at New York University, the U.S. office, and the international office. I go to meetings with all the other Greek presidents and with the fraternity sorority life directors, and make sure we are meeting deadlines and filling out the proper paperwork. I oversee the positions on the executive council – there are nine other positions. I make sure they do their job, that events and recruitments are going well, and that everything is going according to plan. I oversee a lot and meet with many people. I probably send and receive 50 emails a day and 150 text messages a day about Zeta.

What was the process of rushing like and how did you choose which sororities to rush for?

My process was actually a little bit different because I was part of the Alpha pledge class so we founded the organization on campus. I really wanted to be in Greek life. I went to a bunch of different meetings on campus during welcome week and talked to a couple of different organizations.

I missed the deadline for recruitment my freshman year, but then Zeta recruited after formal recruitment. I went to check Zeta out and attended some of their events and I loved the idea of being able to start an organization from the ground up. It was nice to come in without any preconceived notions and reputation. It was hard because there were 90 people originally in our pledge class, but it was nice to be able to make the organization what we wanted it to be.

How do you become president of a sorority?

Since we’re a new chapter, we don’t do direct elections for four years, so the way that we do it is that we first elect a slate committee. Each grade elects a representative for their slate committee. You apply for a position and list your qualifications and interview, and then they pick who gets the positions. It’s a long process.

What does a day in your life look like?

This semester most of my classes are in the afternoons so I usually try to wake up at 9am or 10am and get my work done in the morning. I like to do my work first thing in the morning. Then I’ll try to get to the gym or go for a run. In the evenings I usually have meetings or a Zeta event, and then I’ll spend my night usually answering emails and finishing up paperwork. That’s my typical weekday.

What activities were you involved in throughout high school? Were there any experiences that were most memorable or life changing?

In high school I was on the cross country and I was captain my senior year. I was on the swim team, I was involved in honor choir, and I did the musical every year. I wasn’t always accepted because I didn’t want to conform to the norm and I didn’t really care what other people thought. Then I remember my senior year I was voted homecoming queen, and I remember thinking, “This is what happens when you don’t let people tell you who to be. This is what happens when you are yourself. People end up liking you.” It was a life affirming moment in high school.

Besides interning and being Zeta’s president, what other activities are you involved in?

I’m pretty busy with school and Zeta. I work part-time during the semester. I was in hall council my freshman year and was a representative my sophomore year. Now I am not as involved since my meetings conflict.

What has your experience been like going to college in New York City?

It was hard at first because it was totally different from where I grew up. I grew up in a tiny town in Colorado and I wanted something different for college. I came up here and didn’t know anybody. At first it was exciting like I was on vacation, but then I realized that this is where I would live for the next four years. It was a bigger transition process, but now I’m really glad I came here because I feel like I became very independent and that I could go anywhere else in the world and feel comfortable and figure out where I’m going. It’s been hectic and sometimes a little stressful, but in the end I’m glad I came.

What motivates you in your everyday life?

I have different motivations for different things. Especially for Zeta, my friends and sisters in the organizations motivate me. There are some days when I’m working all day doing Zeta stuff and I get exhausted, but then I realize I’m doing it for all of my friends, and that motivates me.

I’ve also always been a self-motivated person. I like to stay busy and keep going and think about my post-college life. I want to have enough experience to make money and support myself. I am past the living-with-my-parents stage in my life.

Who is your role model?

This was actually my entrance essay for college and I picked Walt Disney. I remember my first line being, “I am Walt Disney’s fairytale princess.” I think he’s a good example because I love the fantastical aspect of all of his work. Nothing was too much or too absurd to be a story. He was also a great storyteller and that’s one thing I would love to do, whether it’s fiction or journalism. He’s definitely one of my role models.

I’m also not someone who idolizes other people. I think everyone is flawed and I respect other people for what they’ve done, but I don’t necessarily idolize celebrities or anyone. I could try to live up to certain things they’ve done in their life, but I’d rather look up to the me that I can be.

What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

Stop stressing so hard about everything in life. I tend to over-analyze and find the stress in everything. I would tell my 15-year-old-self to take chances. At that age I liked to take safe choices. I would tell myself that it is going to be okay eventually, but that it is going to get worse before it gets better.