Columbia, South Carolina

When Robert Mason was a very young, very new sophomore dancer at the Governor’s School, his grandmother died one morning while he was in rehearsals a hundred miles away. That’s when he decided to quit. That’s when it was all just too much. Because, you see, this was the grandmother who rescued him from a foster home after he’d been abandoned by his mother. The grandmother who raised him in Columbia, who pulled him out of dance classes in middle school when his grades went south. The grandmother who became his mother. And he hadn’t been there for her when she passed. But Robert Mason’s grandmother didn’t raise a quitter, and when his grief and guilt subsided, Robert rededicated himself to his dance training, with a focus on contemporary ballet. Robert doesn’t possess the typical male ballet dancer body. He’s a lithe six feet, three inches, with a wingspan that’s even longer. But with the help of the Governor’s School dance instructors, he’s corralled and trained all those inches, and this year, won second place in the national Youth America Grand Prix dance competition. Next year, Robert will be dancing on new stages, under new instruction, at either George Mason University (where he received a sizable scholarship) or Juilliard (where he is currently wait-listed). No matter where Robert lands, one thing is for sure. Grandma Mason would be proud.


Columbia, South Carolina

Chris says something clicked in his head during the Christmas holidays, when he visited A.C. Flora High School and watched his old wrestling team go through a few practice sessions. He says it suddenly struck him that wrestling and acting aren’t all that different, that staring down an opponent on the mat and searching for the places to dig in and grab hold is not unlike sharing the stage with a fellow actor during a scene. The intensity needed is the same. The focus required is the same. “And if you don’t maintain that intensity and be ready to react to that other person, you wind up on your back,” he says. Yes, Chris has left the wrestling mats behind, but it is not hard to see the physical presence and intensity he’s brought to roles at the Governor’s School, like Joe Bonaparte in Golden Boy and Dodge in Buried Child and Leontes in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. Right now, he is deciding between three top-flight drama programs to attend next fall: Texas State University Department of Theater and Dance, the Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program at the University of Minnesota, and the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. All good choices for an ex-wrestler looking for some new stages to stalk.


Florence, South Carolina

There’s a little town perched on a hillside in Costa Rica called Pueblo Nuevo. That’s where Vicky Brown’s mother was born. It’s where her relatives still live. And the town has become a literary touchpoint for Vicky. She travels there many, many times each year. Well, not physically. Instead, she goes there on the page. Throughout her poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, Vicky consistently weaves threads of her Costa Rican lineage, touching on the places and people who inform her writing, who make her who she is. Many of her Costa Rican–tinged creations were included in a collection that recently won the $10,000 Portfolio Prize from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. And one of her short stories, called “Self-Made Man,” won a national Best in Grade award from Scholastic, which carries with it a $500 prize. In other words, the girl can write. Oh, and she speaks three languages and she’s going to work on sustainable farms in Israel and Lebanon this summer and she’s planning to attend American University in Washington, DC, in their Global Scholars Program, where she’ll study in the School of International Relations (more specifically “peace and conflict resolution”). Because Vicky Brown is on a mission to make the world a better place. And she wants to write stories and poems about how she does it. Don’t bet against her.


Westminster, South Carolina

Where’s Roman Holder? Easy answer. Roman Holder is in a practice room. Because Roman Holder is always in a practice room. Each day for four and a half hours, he’s there, communing with the Selmer Mark VI saxophone hanging around his neck. Translation? Roman Holder has a work ethic like you’ve never seen. And he’s got his mother to thank for it. Roman’s mother, who passed away last year, was a paraplegic since an accident at the age of fifteen. From her, Roman says he learned perseverance and stamina. He learned the value of never giving up. And the lessons she provided carried him to the Governor’s School and into that practice room and onto stages around the state as the Master Recital winner in the SC Band Directors Association competition, the Senior Solo Competition winner for the Carolina Youth Symphony, and a member of the All-State Jazz Band. Roman’s already been accepted at the Eastman School of Music and the Manhattan School of Music, but when he’s not playing his sax, he’s keeping his fingers crossed that he’ll attend Indiana University, so he can apprentice under renowned saxophonist, Otis Murphy. But no matter what happens, there’s one thing you can count on: Roman Holder ain’t quitting. He’s always going to be in that practice room, hanging out with his Selmer Mark VI.


Olanta, South Carolina

Olanta, South Carolina. Population 520. A nice little Pee Dee town, but not exactly the hotbed of artistic dreams. Meet Wes Quattlebaum, the exception to the Olanta Rule. When Wes was a middle schooler, his art teacher noticed his talent and his work ethic and his ability to dream big dreams. But it wasn’t easy to keep those dreams alive back then. Wes lived in a single-parent home and that single parent was unable to work because of health reasons. Bills piled up. There were times without electricity. Other times without water. But the family made do, using a kerosene heater for cooking and for light and for heating bath water. The bullies at middle school didn’t go easy on the quiet kid who reeked of kerosene. But Wes never stopped dreaming of becoming an artist and making his exit from Olanta. The Governor’s School provided that door. Now, the dreams have grown. Wes will continue his artistic training at either Winthrop University or SCAD in Atlanta next year, but he’s set his sights far beyond that. He wants to land in a big city environment where he can open his own studio and flex his artistic muscles across a number of disciplines. And he wants to go back to Olanta. Not to live. Rather, he wants to give them a piece of his dreams. “One day, I’m going to create one big thing, one big piece of art, that people in Olanta can just go sit with and enjoy. That will make me happy.”

Originally published May 2018