Jenna Makkawy ՚21 prepared to audition in New York, Chicago

Jenna Makkawy, Class of 2021, stands near the swinging bench by Hanson House.
Jenna Makkawy, Class of 2021, stands near the swinging bench by Hansen House.

Chicago, Illinois

B.F.A. in musical theatre with a minor in studio art

Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

What are your short and long-term plans after Cornell? My immediate short-term plans are going to NYC (summer 2021) and participating as a student in a Musical Theater Intensive at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. Long term, I will most likely be going back to my hometown of Chicago after being in New York where I will audition like crazy to try and find work in my field as well as probably find a side job to make some extra money!

How has Cornell prepared you for your future? I am so appreciative of the block plan for so many reasons. I had a terrible time in high school trying to complete all of my coursework each night. We were on a very traditional “every class every day” schedule and it didn’t work great for me. Not only has the block plan helped alleviate stress from having multiple classes to work on at a time, but it also has really given me a taste of time management in the real world.

Outside of college, bosses are not really going to give you a semester to get projects done, so being able to whip out thorough and quality assignments in the short term here at Cornell has really prepared me for life outside of college! 

Can you identify people you considered to be mentors at Cornell? Most definitely. I have so many amazing faculty that I have considered mentors; it is hard not to list them all. To name a few: Caroline Price, Scott Olinger, Lisa Hearne, Ben Laur, and Jama Stilwell have left huge impacts on me in my time here at Cornell. Being very heavily involved in the Music and Theatre and Dance Departments, every single one of these faculty members has shown me immense support and has taught me a lot from their instruction either in my studio lessons or One Course At A Time classes. I am so grateful that I can say that there are even more that cannot fit into this list.

What is the coolest topic you studied for an 18-day block? What made this block stand out to you? Wow! I’ve taken so many cool blocks at Cornell, it is hard to pick just one. One course I absolutely loved taking was Vocal Diction with Dr. Lisa Hearne. This block was a stand-out because I found the subject material so fascinating. I was learning all about IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) and how to write out words in IPA and pronounce them across English, Italian, French, and German. It felt like I learned a secret language in 18 days and it was very beneficial to my voice study.

If you could share with your high school self some words of wisdom that you’ve learned since being at Cornell, what would it be? You are worthy of so much love and appreciation. Don’t give your love to just anyone. Be you unapologetically. Don’t say yes to everything. Be protective of your time because it’s going to go by quickly. Treat yo’ self for all the work you have done with a Perkins run, and lastly love yourself!!!!!

What’s something you learned about yourself during your time at Cornell? Outside of academics, I learned on a personal note that mental health is priority one. There was a period of time in my early years at Cornell that I would push off my mental well-being and keep chugging along until I completely would gas out and not understand why. It is something I am still working on day by day, but I try to prioritize my mental health and well-being. I am very thankful to Rev. Dr. Catherine Quehl-Engel for all that she has taught me about wellness and mindfulness through her adjunct classes and yoga classes. I bought myself a mini singing bowl from her wonderful influence :)

Jenna Makkawy, Class of 2021, near swing by Hanson HouseWhat is your proudest accomplishment as a Cornellian? I would say that my proudest accomplishment as a Cornellian is being the pioneer of the B.F.A. in musical theatre program as their first graduating student of the program. I was introduced to the program my freshman year and committed to it because I was going to create my own major in the B.S.S. track anyway that was extremely similar to the B.F.A. It is very rigorous and intense, giving students a combination of a conservatory feeling while still being rooted in the liberal arts.

Was there anything you learned at Cornell that changed your perspective significantly? In high school, I remembered being in choir and my choir teacher would ask me a question in regard to music theory and I would brush it off saying that it “wasn’t important” and he would gasp. (Rightfully so.) In coming to Cornell and being in the B.F.A. program and having multiple required music theory classes, I can confidently say that I have done a complete 180, and that MUSIC THEORY IS SO IMPORTANT!!!! I was so wrong in the past to take it for granted, and I am so thankful to have the foundational knowledge in my field from my study at Cornell.

What’s one thing you did during your time at Cornell that you never thought you’d do? One thing I never thought I would do is pitch a show to our Student Theater Council (STC) and have it be chosen for the season. I then became a co-director of a cabaret event that took place in both my junior and senior years called “Boundless: A Cabaret.” It was a super unexpected and special opportunity that I will never forget.

What is your favorite Cornell memory? One of my favorite memories is from my freshman year (spring 2018). It was the end of the year and I was in a main-stage show in the Kimmel Theatre called “August: Osage County.” My family came to visit and see me in the production and it fell on the same weekend as Chalk the Walk. I remember it being sunny and beautiful weather and giving my family a tour of Mount Vernon after seeing me perform. And of course, my roomie and I had a Dows slumber party with my sister and cousin after our full day out, and what beats that? :)

What’s something about Cornell that makes you smile? Warm and sunny days on the Hilltop. :)

Favorite spot on campus: Wilch Apartments, specifically Wilch 500. I am extremely lucky to have called the back apartment of Wilch home for my junior and senior years. It has become my home away from home and has given me a comfortable safe space to end out my time at Cornell. I am beyond grateful for Wilch 500 and will miss it dearly.

Favorite food served at the Hilltop or Zamora’s: Zamora’s Pipeline Punch Monster (when they still had those—to help me get through the crazy days) and Zammie’s Mozz sticks (when they still had those—bring them back!!!!)

What you’ll miss the most: The incredible people that I have met and made impactful connections with.