In June 2011, I graduated from Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, a performing arts high school in New York City. For four years I dealt with academic and artistic stress as I learned the balancing act between schoolwork and my art form, which was dance. I complained, I whined, I cried, I laughed, I celebrated and I tried to make sense of any situation I was faced with. In short, I probably made a bigger deal out of things than I should have, yet luckily, in time we change. And I have changed, looking back on everything now especially, it has only recently dawned on me how lucky I was to have had that experience... It's one that many covet, at such a young age and at any age really.
But before I continue, I want to let you know a couple of things about how this piece came together.
It took me hours. And hours... and hours.
I wanted to break down the process of getting into and utilizing a performing arts high school. I wanted to glorify it and make it seem like student life really is like Fame! or High School Musical. I wanted to give you facts and evidence and a certain truth as to why you should attend a specialized school. All of these elements are, after all, what makes a piece easily readable, but over the past few days life has shown me that what is easy is not always right.
Upon writing this I was informed that one of Frank Sinatra's students -- a senior named Lauren, a familiar face and rising talent -- passed away. And now I don't want to write about any of what I mentioned before. I want to try to understand why this had to happen, but even more so I want this to serve as an example of how important art is.
Art, unlike us as humans, is immortal. No matter how much others try to censor it, question it, criticize it or destroy it, art is a central part of this world -- and it should be. Thinking about this, have you ever seen those commercials showing little kids playing and a narrator's voice explaining how these kids need to be the future mathematicians and scientists? The world is crying out for left-brainers and scientific innovators, especially with the emphasis on technology. But the truth of the matter is, creativity is something that will always seem to reign over the idea of fact. It challenges fact, and makes life seem a little less daunting and it's probably because at the end of the day, although it has its technicalities, art is never wrong.
But what's changed about art is that we now associate it with power and money, and for young people, the emphasis on these two have increased. While are there are rare overnight success stories like Justin Bieber, it's very unlikely that individuals can attain such an immense following just off of their YouTube Channel. And with movies and reality shows centered around the arts, people have lost sight of the discipline it takes in order to truly make it in the arts... and that's where the importance of artistic education comes in.
Rachel Wurman, the Jazz/Tap and Musical Theatre teacher at Frank Sinatra, shared her thoughts about the significance of the arts in the lives of young people, "The importance of the arts in any school is immeasurable. Often it is the 'art' class that keeps the kids in school; it can give a struggling student a purpose for being present that day. Art is important because it is heart and it is soul. It is breath and life. It is a necessity in life and therefore it is a necessity in school. I consider myself fortunate every day to work at a performing arts high school. It is the culmination of my dreams and hard work."
So yes, it is possible to turn an artistic dream into a reality at a young age. When in doubt just think, "FAME! I wanna live foorrrreverrrr!" Most of us commonly associate this little jingle with bust-out dance moves, young talent and bad, erhmm, interesting '80s hair. Yet for the select few, this one lyric serves as a communal motto for any dreamer looking to make it big in showbiz.
While one may want to live forever, they may not be so keen on the idea of living forever in high school -- even if you do get to do something creative for a portion of the day. I know I can definitely testify to this. But as we are faced with heart-wrenching circumstances such as Lauren's, it is important to remember to take a step back and look at the big picture and to appreciate what we have. Having the opportunity to learn art and the art of passion is a once in a lifetime opportunity and looking back, I can easily say that what I took away the most from my four years at FSSA is the idea that unity is one of the most important things in art and in life.
With her tragic passing, Lauren has instilled that sense of unity within the Frank Sinatra community. The irony of it is, these circumstances will ultimately result in being one of the most valuable lessons the current students of FSSA will take with them throughout the rest of their high school careers.
I think it's safe to say that we owe Lauren a lot more then our condolences. We owe her our dedication and appreciation for the lives and opportunities we have. We must always remember that art is what makes life beautiful. It is moments like these when we must remember to celebrate art, to celebrate each other and furthermore to celebrate life.
This piece is dedicated to the Jones family, Lauren's best friends, the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts community and to the memory of a young girl gone too soon. Rest in Peace, Lauren J.