Posted by: Andra London, Senior Marketing Development Associate on 4/13/2009 12:11:00 PM
In 2004, when the television show American Idol was still in its early years, Hillels of Georgia created a fundraising event unlike any other the organization had produced. Modeled after the singing contest that had become a national phenomenon, Hillel Campus Superstar was developed to showcase statewide college talent while raising money for the organization in a fun and innovative way. I was a sophomore at Emory University at the time and one of hundreds of students from 19 Georgia universities who auditioned to participate in the singing competition.
After the first-round, semi-finals, and final show at Center Stage Atlanta, I was surprised and honored to win the first annual Campus Superstar. Little did I know at the time, but I left the stage with far more than the winner’s check. Campus Superstar connected me with active members of the Atlanta Jewish community who, along with Hillel, maintained relationships with me throughout my remaining years in college. I was invited to join one family for Passover Seder in their home, by another family to attend a Jewish fundraiser they were hosting, by another to sing at an event honoring her leadership and commitment to the Jewish community. I was asked to return to Campus Superstar planning sessions for the following year and performed again at the start of the show before the contestants took the stage.
On March 31st, I returned to Atlanta to serve as a judge for Campus Superstar 2009 Gives Back. This year’s event was the first to “give back” a portion of its proceeds to the Tritt-Oppenheimer JHealth Leadership Institute, a new initiative of Hillels of Georgia that invests in pre-med and public health undergraduates to inspire value-driven careers in healthcare.
It was a welcome change to be on the other side of the judges’ table this time around. The eight contestants, who ranged from freshmen to seniors at Emory University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University, and University of Georgia, were incredibly talented. Some owned the stage with their vocals, others with their presence. The evening’s winner, Georgia State sophomore Denise Kelly, had both talent and charisma. She blew away the crowd with her medley rendition of “Natural Woman” and “This Will Be.”
What will the future hold for these young people? When I was in the spotlight on that stage, I did not know how this event would transform my life. The personal relationships I developed as a result of my Hillel Campus Superstar experience were instrumental in bringing me to where I am today.
A Hillel supporter from the Atlanta Jewish community, with whom I had kept in touch since my graduation, contacted me last February to sing at the farewell dinner for Vicki Agron, the former UJC Development Senior Vice President. Although I had never before met Vicki, the dinner made a powerful impression on me. I was deeply touched by the meaningful relationships she had with her colleagues and the real impact she had made- not only on the Jewish community, but also on the lives of the individuals with whom she worked. I was inspired by the feelings of love and respect that emanated throughout the course of the evening. That event caused me to reevaluate my career path.
I had been working for two years as a Strategic Planner at the international advertising agency, Ogilvy. On paper, my job had been ideal: global clients, serious responsibility, and jeans to work every day! But something critical was missing: a sense of greater meaning. I needed to believe that my time and energy would have a positive impact on more than the bottom line. I wanted to work towards something I believed in and work with people who are dedicated to creating change. I wanted to be a leader with the power to impact my community.
I reached out to my friends from the Atlanta Jewish community for advice, and they reconnected me to Hillel. At the time, I was nearly three years out of college, and it had been five years since my Campus Superstar win. But it seemed a natural fit. My college experience was defined in part by the moments and memories created with Hillel. For that reason, I am thrilled to now be a part of this organization that works to enrich the lives of college students by providing them with meaningful Jewish experiences.
The path of my life has been changed for the better thanks to Hillel. My participation in Hillel’s Campus Superstar led me to feel a part of the larger Atlanta Jewish community. My relationships with Jewish community members not only enriched my college life, but also led to a performing engagement that served as a professional epiphany. My epiphany led me to alter my career path from the corporate world of advertising to the Jewish nonprofit world, which in turn led me back to Hillel. One can never predict the influence that a single Jewish experience can have on the life of a college student, and I am a testament to the fact that even one such moment can have a life-changing impact.
RE: "Idol" Moment Proves Transformative
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