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James Wheeler
More Than I Imagined Seniors reflect on accomplishments and look ahead

James Wheeler

Graduation year: 2021

High school: Webutuck High School

Hometown: Amenia, N.Y.

Majors: Theatre arts, communication studies

Minor: Sociology

Activities: Delta Omega Nu fraternity, Alpha Psi Omega (theatre honor society), theatre department performance and directing, peer mentor (two years)

Post-grad plans: I am planning on taking a gap year to gain professional experience in theatre before applying to grad school in hopes of earning an MFA in performance.

Why Augustana?

When I came across Augustana in my junior year of high school, it jumped out to me right away as a place I could see myself being successful. I met a student recruiter for the school during the HOBY World Leadership Conference in Chicago, and I could feel the love and passion she had for this place. Sure it had the programs I was looking for at the time, but there was an energy about Augie that truly drew me in.

Are you where you thought you'd be when you first came to campus?

Graduating high school I knew that I was ready for college to be the next step in my life journey, but I don't know if I saw myself getting to where I am now. I knew I would be involved in theatre, but I never expected to take part in 9-plus productions during my time here, and I knew I would make friends, but I never expected it to be through the two fraternities I joined. All in all, I never saw myself getting here in the ways I did.

Who helped you get to where you are now?

Above all, I have to give the utmost praise to the theatre faculty here at Augustana. Jeff Coussens provided me opportunities to find that directing is a passion of mine; Dr. Jennifer Popple pushed me to make bold choices and to be a more refined actor; and Shelley Cooper helped me to become a more well-rounded theatre artist in an interconnected world.

I learned so much about my craft from these people. But most importantly, I learned that the key is to be a good person first and an artist second.

Aside from my life in theatre, I have my family to thank. They supported me in every endeavor and trusted me to make the choices I needed to make for my life goals.

I also have my friends and fraternity brothers to thank for pushing me to be the best version of myself, as well as supplying countless laughs along the way.

Peak experience?

My peak experience was just this year when I was given the opportunity to direct my own independent project, "Speaking in Tongues" by Andrew Bovell. My team and I worked together to provide the community with what I truly feel was an excellent piece of art. But more than that, I learned about who I am as an artist and a leader, and I will be forever grateful for that experience.

What surprised you?

I was most surprised by how easy it was to connect with my professors. Maybe it was just my experience, but all I heard in high school were the horror stories of college professors who wouldn't cut you any slack. But here at Augustana I felt like my professors consistently cared about me, and were always willing to sit down and just talk about life if I needed it.

How did you use your Augie Choice?

I spent my Augie Choice having the time of my life on my J-term study abroad in Austria with Shelley Cooper, taking part in a rigorous physical theatre workshop. It will always stick with me, as it was one of the last big things I was able to do before COVID-19 hit.

What will you miss the most?

I will miss this place. I can always come back, but these spaces have been mine for the past four years in a way that they won't be again.

I will never again spend countless hours in the Brunner Theatre. I will never again put my head down to write a paper surrounded by my friends in the Brew. And I will never again consistently hear the Arsenal play taps at 10 p.m. every night as I walk home from rehearsal.

I will miss these spaces, but I am content knowing they will be someone else's very soon.

Advice for the Class of 2025?

Follow your passions and take every opportunity you can. It sounds cliché but people too often write off their passions as frivolous. Whatever your passion is you deserve to get excited about it and make it a reality. And have fun — you're going to love it here!

"I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with James during the last four years. Whether he is actively engaging in classroom discussions or rehearsing a production in the theatre, he is always 110% committed to his work. He not only holds himself up to the highest standards possible, but he brings out the best in his classmates and ensemble members by serving as a great leader and role model. I will especially miss his astute observations and great sense of humor."

– Jeff Coussens, professor and chair, theatre arts

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