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The Q + A: Sherri Eldin, Commencement Speaker

May 9, 2014

Sherri Eldin, a Master of Fine Arts student in the Brown/Trinity Rep acting program, will give the student address at the Graduate School Commencement Convocation on May 25. Her talk is titled: "Are We There Yet? The Road to Identity."

Music has been a strong current in her training and performance. Some highlights include composing and music directing Brown/Trinity's production of "As You Like It", in which she played Amiens, and co-composing “The Grapes of Wrath” at Trinity Rep, in which she appeared as The Rock Singer.

Prior to entering the acting program in 2011, Sherri had been an actress and musician, appearing Off-Broadway and doing on-camera work. She also had been working in music supervision and at an independent record company in New York City. She holds a BA from Fordham in bilingual literature and creative writing, between English and Italian. 

The speaker, who was selected by the Graduate Student Council, tells us about herself and her talk.

Where are you from and why did you come to Brown for graduate studies?

Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. I’m about two-thirds of a mile from the Hudson River, and if you stand on my roof you can see the George Washington Bridge and New York City.

In the fall 2010, I saw a television commercial for a Broadway musical that was just about to open. As an actress and singer/songwriter who’d been on the scene in New York for about a decade at that point, I got curious and hopped online to find out more. I immediately went to the cast bios. Two in particular caught my eye, as they had MFAs in acting from Brown/Trinity. Not only did I not know that the program existed, I had no idea Brown even offered theatre MFAs. So I opened up a new browser window and started looking into it. "I think it's time to get my acting MFA," I said to myself.

Five months later, I auditioned for Stephen Berenson, the head of the program. Less than a month after that, he called to tell me I had been accepted into the program. I remember both days so vividly, and the exact dates too. I wonder what he would have said if someone told him on that day, “Hey! You just accepted the commencement speaker.”

Why did you want to be the graduate student speaker at Commencement?

This has been a dream of mine since I was very young.  In simple terms, you could say that it was on my bucket list, or a life-long goal, but putting it into such succinct phrases takes away from how special this all really is to me. I used to say when I was in high school, if you are able to put how you feel about something into words, how precious is that feeling, really?

This all jumped to a whole new level last year, when my brother Ali graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. The honorary doctorate was being presented to music journalist, author and critic Greil Marcus, who delivered a speech that I will never forget for as long as I live. Sitting in the second row of Radio City Music Hall, I was so inspired and determined more than ever before to be a commencement speaker.

During every step of the application process, I had to write more and more of the speech, and I love writing, so I told myself that if nothing else, this is a great opportunity to write in a way that I never have before and never will again. I must extend a BIG thank you to the Graduate Student Council for nominating me into this position, and to Beverly Larson, Communications Director for the Graduate School, for helping me refine my speech into what it has become, and her caring and patience with me in the process. I am very proud of what I will be sharing with everyone on May 25th, and hope they enjoy what they hear. 

Why are you talking about identity?

As a first-generation American born to parents who are not only from two different countries but who also follow two different religions, I have been very aware of identity from a young age.  The fact that I am in the arts, specifically the performing arts, only made the issue of identity more prevalent in my life, because performers are constantly on display and available to be criticized.  It becomes very hard to draw the line between the you that is your persona that you put on for your work, and the you that is you, period. 

Needless to say, it was the first topic that came to mind when I prepped to write the proposal for my initial application to be the speaker. However I wondered if this would be applicable to my fellow graduates in other fields, only to remember the many professionals I have known – doctors, large business owners, journalists – have also questioned the degree to which their work defines them, and the role that their schooling played in their seeking the answers to that and other relevant questions. So I knew it was going to be an experience that we could all reflect on together. 

What are your plans?

This summer I will be going to Italy with my alma mater, Fordham University, to teach and direct as part of their study abroad program’s Performing In Italian class. I took the class myself the summer after I graduated, under Matthew Maguire, who is the head of the theatre program at Fordham. He is on sabbatical this year, so I will be taking over for him on this trip.  Beyond that...I’m an actress and a musician, two very unpredictable fields, so I have no idea!