Dear Black Alumni Society Scholarship Committee,

This summer I got a job painting a woman’s house. I was in the middle of my lunch break, when Ms. Monts called me, and told me that I was a Black Alumni Scholar. She told me that I was going to be receiving the Phoebe Todd Harris & Trey-Smith200pxAnne Harris LaRew Alumni Scholarship worth $1,000. A scholarship that is renewable for an additional three years providing I maintain full-time enrollment, a 2.50 cumulative GPA and complete 24 credit hours per academic year. I was thrilled. I called my mom to tell her and she was ecstatic. This was the best news I could have given her. I remember being excited; however I also remember wondering why I was so excited. Was it because I knew that it would make my mom happy that I got a scholarship? Maybe it was because for years people had told me that I needed scholarships. I didn’t know, and it wasn’t until the end of my first semester as a freshman that that I truly understood and appreciated the scholarship. It wasn’t until I went into Starbucks to get a gingerbread frappuccino and had to ask my friend for a dollar because I had already used all my flex dollars and spent all of my own money that I realized how important this scholarship was. It wasn’t until I was faced with the realization that I didn’t have time to get a summer job to save up for books because I needed books for the next semester. It wasn’t until I was in the middle of a “finals-cramming” meltdown that I thought: “If I had to focus on anything else, like paying for college, I wouldn’t be able to cope,” that I truly understood and appreciated this scholarship afforded to me by the Black Alumni Society.

When I was a sophomore in high school I was signed up to take Spanish I, which was the best thing ever, because that meant I was going to get all the Latin ladies. That’s why everyone took foreign language in high school, right? After the first week of school my teacher wanted me to start learning Spanish and it was hard. By the end of the second quarter, I thought I would have a better chance of lifting a mountain then getting an “A” on the Spanish test. I was getting discouraged but then my teacher said the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard. She said that the next unit we would be doing would not be in Spanish. She said we would be doing a unit on Illegal Immigration. Up to that point, I had no prior knowledge about Illegal Immigration past what I had heard in flipping through channels and accidentally landing on C-SPAN but this unit was about radically jar my perspective.

The unit started off with a crash course in a socioeconomic condition of Mexico. We learned that in Mexico more than half of the population was impoverished. My teacher split the class up into socioeconomic divisions similar to that of Mexico. More than half of the class was impoverished; I was lucky enough to be in the half of the class that was impoverished. She gave us pesos and made us figure out the exchange rate of pesos and dollars. Then she made us exchange our pesos for dollars, a transaction she did completely in Spanish. I watched several of my classmates get conned out of money. She then made us start paying for things like housing, food and entertainment. I fully expected, being that I was impoverished, not to have enough money to even consider entertainment as an option but I didn’t expect to have to choose between food and housing. The immigration unit continued with conversation about immigration legislation in the United States. The unit ended with a movie called A Better Life. It’s a movie that follows illegal immigrant Carlos Galindo as he works dangerous jobs, for pay that was neither comparable nor legal, all in the hopes of providing for his son, Luis, the opportunity to work and achieve a better life. The movie ends with Carlos Galindo, a decent man who just wanted to give his son the chance at a better life, being deported back to Mexico.

I was so touched by the movie that I decided that I was going to become a civil rights attorney and fight for people like Carlos–decent people who are here, not to steal jobs from American workers and not to sell drugs, but for the hope of a better life in the “land of opportunity.” So, I started looking into law schools. I was born in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and I always wanted to be a Razorback. When I was looking at colleges I discovered that the University of Arkansas was ranked nationally in the top 100 law schools in the country. Not only was it ranked, it was a very highly ranked so I decided I was going to be Razorback.

By my second semester senior year I was on track to graduate with honors from Fayetteville High School; had already been admitted to University of Arkansas, and had a couple scholarships. I started thinking what else I could possibly do with my high school career. There was an audition for the school play and I thought why not. I auditioned, sweating bullets, thinking to myself “Some these kids of been doing this since junior high; there’s no way I’m going to get cast.” The day the call boards were listed I went to look not expecting much. I saw my name. I got a part. I was going to be playing Jimmy in that year’s production of Almost, Maine. There were frequent rehearsals and I realized that I really liked it. One day at rehearsal, a friend, Anders Bandy, said to me that I was pretty good at this whole acting thing and Arts Live Theater was putting on a production of Hairspray Jr., The Musical and that I should try out. I went and auditioned thinking to myself “I’ve never done this before. I don’t even know if I’m a good singer, there’s no way I’m going to get a part.” Again the call boards were listed, and again I checked them. I was cast as Seaweed, one of the principal characters of the musical. I started going to rehearsal almost daily and realized I loved it. Hairspray ran until May 1-4. I remember that because on May 5 when I wasn’t at rehearsals for Hairspray, I found myself hyperventilating. I thought to myself “If I can’t breathe without this; it is something I’ve got to do.” I was already acquainted with the Department of Theatre at the University of Arkansas because my mentor/big brother JP Green was a theater major, and I had seen a couple of their productions. So, I decided switched my major to theater.

When I came to college I had ambitious goals. I just knew everything was going to be amazing. This new chapter of my life was going to be the best by far. I was rooming with my best friend; I had finally figured out that I was going to double major in theater and broadcast journalism and double minor in African American studies and Spanish; and I was at a university I had wanted to attend since birth. I decided that I was going to have a 3.5 GPA my first semester and I was convinced that I was going to be able to participate in everything. My first semester of college started off great. After arriving at the University of Arkansas, I auditioned for the plays planned for the Department of Theatre and was fortunate enough to be selected for a lead role as a first semester freshman. And, not just any lead role, I was going to be playing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in this year’s production of The Mountaintop. I was making new friends and I made it on the jumbotron like three times at my first football game.

The pace of school started to pick up and I realized that I was too heavily involved in things other than academics. After some reflection, I decided I was going to have to start saying no to being involved in so many things. However, there are still some things that I would like to be involved in while I am at the University of Arkansas. For example: I would like to be a resident assistant (RA). I would also like to remain active in the Department of Theatre. I would like to study abroad, as well as becoming a part of the RSO responsible for pep rallies.

In a recent conversation with a friend, I told her about all of my majors and minors and she asked me what I planned to do with them. That was the first time I had to verbally articulate what I planned to do with my future. I had a plan, it was just scattered in my brain. My dream is to be on Broadway. After a career on Broadway, I would use my degree in broadcast journalism to have my own talk show. Not one where the discussion would be about frivolous things, but where I discussed prevalent issues that were plaguing communities such as: homelessness, hunger and immigration. My friend then asked why I had decided to be a Spanish and African-American studies double minor. I told her that I needed a backup plan otherwise my mom wasn’t going to let me be a theater major. She asked me how I planned to give back. I told her that if I had the opportunity to be an RA I would be an RA that formed relationships with my residents, and tried to mentor them through the rough four years of college. I told her that I’d tell them to take their roommate agreements seriously, and park in the same direction as all the other cars and show them cool Twitter pages that tell you where to find free food on campus. She laughed and asked me how I would give back after I got into the industry. I told her that I planned to do a couple of things. One of which was that I would like to donate to the Peace at Home Shelter, a shelter for battered and abused women to recover and ultimately go back into the community successfully. I also want to donate to small theater companies because that’s where my love of theater was discovered. I also told her how I planned to give back through mentoring.

I would like to thank the Black Alumni Society for its scholarship award. Before I got into college I thought that I didn’t need college. I was going into an industry that doesn’t require a college degree, but in reflecting on how much I’ve grown, not only as an actor but as a person in just one semester since I’ve been in college, I realize how worthwhile it all is. The scholarship award from the Black Alumni Society helps to make it possible. Thank you, not only for the scholarship, but for believing in me and making a positive investment in my life.



Trey Smith