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One of the first things that initially drew me to Juniata were all of it’s crazy, unique traditions- when I was looking into Juniata I spent over an hour on YouTube watching videos about all of the traditions here. This past weekend my personal favorite Juniata tradition, Madrigal, took place. Madrigal dinner comes as a reward after a grueling week of tenting. For one week during the fall, which somehow always happens to be the coldest week, students sleep in tents and are awoken almost every hour of the night for role calls and to compete in events in order to gain points. The groups with the most amount of points get to select and secure their table at the Madrigal dinner first. The competition during tenting can get pretty intense, but in the end it’s all worth it for getting to have the perfect Madrigal evening.

As a Juniatian, the entire process of Madrigal didn’t seem that weird to me, but my date was pretty confused the whole night. The pinnacle of Madrigal dinner is singing “The 12 Days of Christmas”- at the top of your lungs…while standing on your chair. While this is an integral part of the Juniata experience, it’s not something you’ll find anywhere else, so to outsiders it may seem a little strange. The dinner is also served by faculty and staff members dressed in silly Christmas attire, which makes it even more fun. That professor who just gave you some feedback on a paper that you aren’t happy about? She’s refilling your water glass. Did your boss give you a long list of work for the week? He’s serving you your chocolate cake. Things like that are a part of what make me love Juniata so much, if I went to a school that was bigger than this I would never get to experience this kind of quirky, fun event. Plus, who doesn’t love a good excuse to get all dressed up with their best friends? Madrigal is another example of how Juniata traditions bringing everyone together to give us a special kind of experience and sense of community and togetherness that you just can’t find anywhere else.


A Small, Unimportant, and Beautiful Life

As a Theater POE, I have had countless opportunities to build my theatrical skills through my classes and productions at Juniata. One thing I haven’t had as much experience with however, is film. My freshman year, I did a four-day intensive with an artist named Britt Whittle, who was an actor in L.A., guest starring on different television shows and commercials. The intensive was called “Acting for the Camera”, and we had the opportunity to work on different scenes from television shows, all with a camera pointed at our face, which was hooked up to a monitor so the rest of the students in the class could watch you while you worked. I got to do a scene from Gossip Girl, which was a show I used to binge-watch all of the time. I had so much fun playing a high-class celebrity, and it was definitely something I had never done before.
Since then, I have hosted “This Week at Juniata”, the school web show, and been in a few student short films, but that’s it. Working with a camera is so weird, because I’m used to being on stage, where the focus is entirely different, and you only get one chance to say a line, since we can’t cut and re-do it. Last semester however, I got the chance of a lifetime here at Juniata, and I starred in my first student feature film, which was written and directed by a fellow IMA student, Matt Gaynor.
Matt reached out to me and asked me to audition for a movie he had written, and to be honest, I had no idea what I was doing. I was very unprepared for the audition, and I went in, said my lines, felt super uncomfortable with a camera on me, and then that was that. I remember walking out of the audition room thinking, well that was the worst audition I’ve ever done…, and sure enough, the next morning I woke up to learn that I had been cast as the lead in the film. It was crazy! I wasn’t expecting it at all, but I was so excited to get to work.
We filmed for about three months, on weekends, at night, and any free time we could find. Unlike other films I had worked on, this one was full-length, so there was so much more material to work with. I was very lucky to have been a part of this project, and it has given me new experiences and lessons I am so excited to take with me into the real world. When we finally wrapped, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I had just finished my debut feature film! I didn’t know what was to come with the film, but I was so happy I was able to help.
I’m very excited to announce that my film A Small, Unimportant, and Beautiful Life is premiering this Thursday, at the Clifton 5 (the local movie theater in Huntingdon) at 8:00 PM. I hate watching myself perform, but to see myself on a big screen is something I have always dreamed about, and it’s finally happening! We are having a big premiere, with wine tasting and a Q&A, and my parents are even driving from Boston to see the film with me. I’m so excited (and nervous) for it, but this is definitely a big step in my journey to becoming a professional actor. I’m so grateful to Matt Gaynor, the IMA Department, and to Juniata College for allowing me this opportunity to grow as an artist! See you at the premiere!

Being a Student-Athlete at Juniata

For most of my life I was a pretty active kid, I loved sports, I played sports, and I watched sports. But, life got in the way during high school I didn’t really participate in sports much and I missed it a lot. Even though I wasn’t a part of a team I still considered myself active and saw myself as an athlete, so I knew that I wanted to get more involved with sports when I came to college. After committing to Juniata I looked into which club and intramural sports teams we had and was really excited about getting to play again. When I got here I joined the women’s club rugby team and loved it. It was great getting to be active again and to be a part of a team. But, then a unique opportunity came to me.

I was at a women’s volleyball game, cheering on my roommate, when I met the new women’s lacrosse coach, Naomi Radio. We talked for a little while and she tried convincing me to come and try out the new lacrosse program, but I wasn’t biting. The idea stayed on my mind for a while though, I had a friend on the team and it seemed cool enough. Then, I met her and talked to her again at a women’s basketball game a few weeks later and she convinced me to join the lacrosse team even though I had never played lacrosse before.

Initially I was really nervous about the time commitment, but it actually turned out to be one of the best things to happen to me thus far in my Juniata career. Being a student athlete has made me not only a better person but also a better student. Having to work in practice times has made my schedule more structured and made me more accountable and efficient with time management.  I’ve also become a part of something bigger than myself, giving me even more resources than I already had to support me. Now my support system has extended beyond my friends here, my professors, and my advisers- I also have my coach and my teammates. There’s nothing more reassuring during stressful times than knowing how many people around you have your back and are willing to help you out. Juniata is already such a tight-knit community, but being a student athlete here has made me feel it even more by introducing me to more people and strengthening my ties to the community.

Family and the Long Drive Home

It’s often said of young people that we don’t appreciate the value of family. In our early twenties we are most concerned with distinguishing ourselves from our families. We strive to a new life and a new character apart from the people with whom we spent the first 18 years of our life. These are admirable—and necessary—goals for college students. But that doesn’t mean a life entirely set apart from our family works best. In fact, most of the people I know at Juniata retain a healthy amount of contact with family.

What one defines as “healthy”, of course, varies depending on the sort of person you are and the circumstances you find yourself in. Many of my more extroverted friends keep in near-daily contact with their family from home, usually through the magic of text or online chat services. Some of my peers live close enough to campus that they either commute daily or, more frequently, spend the odd weekend at home. About half of our population here comes from within the state, so whether they live in Amish country or Appalachia home isn’t so far.

But for myself and many others, home is a long way away. I live in Massachusetts which—though thankfully on the same coast as Pennsylvania—is a nine-to-ten hour drive away. With the exception of Thanksgiving, I spend my breaks and free time exploring in-state or elsewhere. Many more students spend Thanksgiving here, especially those of my friends who live on the left coast. And for the ten percent of students who come from abroad, home is further away than many can appreciate—both in physical and cultural distance.

Thankfully, we are no longer living in the age where telephones require booths and quarters to operate. There are a variety of apps and services which allow one to send messages, images, and voice chat for free over any internet connection. I personally used Viber, a WhatsApp clone, while I studied abroad in New Zealand so as to save on cellphone bills. While I’m in this country, I share a group chat with my nuclear and extended families where we post pictures and musings from our daily lives.

Today more than ever students are traveling further and further away to go to college, something I believe to be an admirable trend. Distancing ourselves from where we grew up allows us to see a new way of life and gives us a chance to redefine who we are. For those of us who find ourselves flung far away from home, even with other oceans or continents between us, our modern age has at least some of the solutions. Now if I could only figure out how to get my cat to Skype me…

Zachary Hesse is a writer, commercial fisherman, and philosophy student at Juniata College. You can find more of his writings and get in touch with him at his website, zacharyhesse.com.



When I first came to college, I was thoroughly scared of public speaking and presentations. So, it was thoroughly shocking when I found myself lobbying Congress on Capitol Hill last week.


Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill

I was in DC as a part of Juniata’s Climate Advocates. We are a part of a larger group called Citizen’s Climate Lobby, which works to promote carbon fee and dividend (a thing which I can give you a 1-minute explanation of. Thanks, CCL online trainings!).


Last week, the organization had their Congressional Education Day. What does that mean exactly? Well, it means I put on went to a 10 hour training, put on my fancy clothes, and made my way to Capital Hill to meet with state representatives. Even though I now like public speaking, this was still a really intimidating experience. The other people in my meetings were strangers, I had never met with a representative before, and I had to find my way around through underground tunnels. All in all, pretty scary, but pretty cool.


Overall, we had some success. I was able to do some of the presentation, which was a personal accomplishment. I realized (or was reminded by a friend) that the representatives are just people, so they shouldn’t be that hard to talk to. I would even describe the experience as a little fun. Exhausting, but fun.


Our little school impressed quite a few people at the conference. We brought the most students out of any educational institution that came, which is very cool considering that we are quite a small school. The thing is, Juniata people seem to care, and from what I’ve seen, they’re willing to put in the effort to show that they care.


This whole event was possible thanks to the hard work of a few students and one dedicated Chemistry professor, Dr. Sharon Yohn, who worked with students to establish the club only last year.


When I came to school, I expected to study. I expected to take finals and write papers. I expected to enjoy Huntingdon and meet people. I didn’t really expect to be pushed to the edges of my comfort zone, and to learn to do things I once believed to be beyond my reach. It was just lobbying, I know. I probably could have done it a few years ago, but now, I have the confidence and support to do this, and anything else that I can imagine.


Mr. Juniata

On Saturday November 11th I got the chance to go to one of Juniata’s most loved traditions; the Mr. Juniata competition. Every year boys from all of the classes are voted in to compete with each other in front of a panel of judges to win the crown. One of the judges this year really caused a stir, Laura our favorite Sodexo employee who had left us came back for a visit. The contestants all participate in an opening dance number, usually choreographed by the dance club. Every year we have a different theme for the Mr. Juniata competition and this year’s theme was ‘king of the island’ so everything was tropical. The contestants are given a list of questions to answer ahead of time which the host, Professor Amy Mathur, uses to introduce them for the talent portion of the competition.

Amy Mathur, the Dance Team and all the Mr. Juniata participants at the end of their opening number.

Amy Mathur, the Dance Team and all the Mr. Juniata participants at the end of their opening number.


Each person creates their own act, sometimes individual and sometimes with the help of friends, to put on in front of the judges and students. It’s always incredibly entertaining and I’m always surprised by the creativity and effort put into their talents. From there they bring out their escorts for the night dressed in their formal wear and present their escorts with a gift. Some of the gifts given are very heartfelt and beautiful while others are just silly but still well meaning. The boys model their formal wear for the judges and are sent off while the scores are compiled. The top three contestants are selected and asked two questions, one they were given that morning and the other they had no preparation for. Most of the time the answers are ridiculous because they’re made up on the spot but it’s all good fun. Then the judges pick their winner, this year our winner was a senior at Juniata College, Storm.

I’m always shocked by how much goes into this competition, the decorations are amazing and there are well thought out questions to match the theme for the boys who always give us answers that make us giggle. Mr. Juniata really is something that is unique to our college. It shows how all of the different classes can come together to create something brilliant despite competing and have some good-natured fun. This gives you a great idea of the general environment on campus, everyone is always so friendly and willing to help each other out.

Is Everyone at Juniata a Master Juggler?

If there’s one thing in common amongst Juniata students, it’s the number of commitments everyone has. Our students are involved in clubs, athletics, employment, and social activities, all on top of their academic courses. For me, I am the President of the Juniata Student Theatre Ensemble, I have four on-campus jobs, I take seven classes, and I also take part in the Theatre Productions, which have rehearsal six days a week. How do we do it, you ask? Here are some of my tips and tricks for staying organized and on top of your work, all while making sure there is still time to relax!
Use a Planner
I am a neat-freak, and I am obsessed with color-coding. I use a daily planner from Panda Planner to help me stay on-task and make sure I don’t forget about assignments. Not only do I use a monthly calendar to mark important events (e.g. exams, performances, deadlines, etc.), but I also use a daily layout to write down my daily schedule, tasks, and wins for each day! Since my schedule is typically filled with classes and appointments, it’s really important to check the calendar every day so you don’t forget anything! Nothing is worse than getting an email that someone is waiting for you to show up to a meeting you completely blanked on. Don’t be that person!
Make a Work Schedule
For long-term assignments, I always have this impulse to blow them off until the last minute, and then end up stressing and scrambling to get it done on time. Instead of being lazy, I break down these assignments into smaller parts, that I can do throughout the week (or month) so I don’t fall behind. It’s definitely a little tedious, because no one likes doing work that isn’t due for a while, but after you get something done early, you feel so good! I always tell myself that I’ll feel better once the assignment is done, rather than putting it off and ignoring it. For example, if I have a rough draft for a paper due in two weeks, I’ll write down exactly what needs to get done in order for it to happen. For me, I need to do research, and then write an outline, and then put my research in the outline, and then start writing my paper from there. To help ease the writing process, I will maybe do my research and outline that first week, so I have over a week to focus on just writing my paper. It may seem lame, but it’s very effective!
Create Realistic Goals
I know we all love dreaming big and setting our hopes high in order to succeed. Realistically, however, you’re not going to write a perfect 10-page paper the night before it’s due. You’re also not going to be able to do a project you’ve had for a month in one weekend. We’re given deadlines sometimes to help us, not freak us out! Making small goals for yourself, even if they aren’t work related, can be very beneficial. For example, I never go to the gym. For me to make a goal for myself to go to the gym every day for a week is completely unrealistic, since I’m not even going once now. If I made a goal to work out for 30 minutes twice a week, instead of an hour-long workout every day, it’s much more attainable, and much less stressful than trying to do things that are almost physically impossible for you.
It’s Okay to Say No
We all want to help out as much as possible, and say “yes” to as many people as we can. I often have this assumption that if I say “no” to someone, they’re going to resent me for it, and not ask me for things in the future. I don’t like disappointing people! However, through many failures and emotional breakdowns, I’ve learned that it’s more important to think about yourself and what is on your plate before you bring more things onto it, no matter how badly you want to say “yes” to something. For example, someone asked me to help them with their talent portion for Mr. Juniata. I immediately said “yes”, because I wanted to offer my assistance and it seemed like something I was capable of. It soon became apparent to me, however, that what this person needed from me wasn’t exactly my “help”; they actually wanted me to design, choreograph and be in their talent portion. I had agreed to help them with it, not do it for them. Although I had already said “yes”, I ended up reaching out to this person again and telling them I couldn’t help them. I said, “what you need from me is not what I can give you at this time”. It was really frightening to send that email. because I felt like I was letting this person down. However, I realized that it wasn’t my fault. I had agreed to something completely different than what had been asked of me, and I had every right to say “no” to this person. Trust me, saying “no” can be hard, and scary, and really intimidating at first. The good thing is, the more you do it, the more comfortable and confident you will become. Just know that it’s okay to say “no” and stick up for yourself! Especially when everyone has so much going on!


Juniata’s Concert Choir

On Sunday November 5th, a group of friends and I went to see Juniata College’s Concert Choir to support our friend who is a member. They sang eighteen songs, which is an impressive amount of songs to learn. Several of the songs were performed in a different language with the translation in the program provided at the door. We learned that the choir is going to travel to Vietnam in January to perform with another Vietnamese choir, we heard some of the songs they are working on in Vietnamese for this trip. The choir travels to another country every two years to sing abroad and experience a new culture. I don’t know anywhere else that has their choir travel like ours does. This really speaks to the liberal arts education that Juniata strives for. It gives students a more well-rounded knowledge of the world. My favorite song was called “Northern Lights”; it was a beautiful piece that showed the skill of the singers and the effort that they have put into this concert. The emotion in the voices of the choir could be felt and many of the audience members were moved by this piece. I also enjoyed listening to the different folk songs which were more upbeat and energetic.

The Juniata College Concert Choir performs around the world every year.  They learn songs in the language of the country they tour in.

The Juniata College Concert Choir performs around the world every year. They learn songs in the language of the country they tour in.

The audience seemed to respond best to the folk songs because of the energy coming from the choir. They all looked like they were having a lot of fun up on stage singing those songs which is important during a performance. There were a few solos that were beautifully done and could easily be heard. Most of the choir’s songs were done A Capella, which is amazing because it can be very difficult to stay together without music, but during one of the folk songs three students came down off the risers to place instruments to accompany the singing. This added a fun aspect to an already entertaining piece. I have always loved going to see the concert choir’s performance. The singers all appear professional but they also show how much they enjoy singing. Their music is varied so that you don’t have to listen to the same kind of music for the entirety of the concert and it shows off the skill and work the singers have and have put into their concert. I would encourage everyone to attend more of the choir’s concerts to support them and as a chance to experience the beautiful music that these students work so hard to provide for their audience. It really is a wonderful experience to heard my fellow students doing what they love and creating something so unique.

“How Did You End Up at Juniata?”

I so often get asked how and why I ended up here at Juniata, in a tiny, little mountain town in the middle of rural Pennsylvania. I grew up in southern Louisiana for most of my life before moving to Singapore for four years, so needless to say Huntingdon is a bit of a change of pace from what I was used to. When it came time to start looking for colleges I knew one thing for sure- I wanted to be somewhere that was completely different from what I already knew, and that’s how I ended up here.

At the time that I visited Juniata I was dead set on coming here, Juniata had been on my mind since early on in my freshman year of high school, so I had been waiting a long time to finally see it. I spent most of the plane ride bouncing in my seat, overly excited and driving my mom nuts. My mom and I got to Huntingdon late in the evening on a weeknight and weren’t going to campus until the next morning, so our plan was just to grab some dinner and look around the area a bit. At first glance, Huntingdon wasn’t quite what I had expected. I had spent months fantasizing about Juniata and what it would be like here, but the town was so much smaller than I had imagined. I was honestly so scared that the place I’d spent forever dreaming about was all wrong for me. That night I lai

A snowy Juniata Day

A snowy Juniata Day

d in the hotel room bed panicking about what I was going to do and it wasn’t until the next morning when we finally got to campus that everything started falling into place.

Pretty much from the second we were on campus my whole mood changed. I had been told by a lot of my older friends that when you found the right college that you would just know, there’d be some magic “click” inside of you and that would be it. I never understood that until I walked onto campus here at Juniata. All of my fears from the night before were gone as soon as I stood in the middle of the quad. As cliché and cheesy as it may sound, something just felt right on campus. Despite how I’d felt before I knew that this campus was my home. Now, a year and a half into my Juniata career I know that I absolutely made the right choice in coming here. This little town that felt so scary at first is now the place where I feel safest and most at peace.

She Kills Monsters

For the past few months, I have been hard at work in rehearsals for a production called “She Kills Monsters”, written by Qui Nguyen, directed by Neal Utterback, one of the theatre professors here at Juniata College. This show is about a cheerleader named Agnes who gets thrown into the world of Dungeons and Dragons after the loss of her little sister Tilly. Agnes has no idea what she is doing, but throughout the show, learns how to stick up for herself, learns more about her younger sister, and learns how to finally confront and defeat her inner demons. The show is a crazy mix of monsters, puppets, dancing, fight scenes, and comedy. It’s basically a giant 90’s party that we’re throwing in Suzanne Von Liebig Theatre!
Cosimo Sciortino, class of 2020 (right) and I during a rehearsal for "She Kills Monsters".

Cosimo Sciortino, class of 2020 (right) and I during a rehearsal for “She Kills Monsters”.

When rehearsals first got started at the beginning of the semester, it was very hands-on and physically demanding. We rehearse six days a week for 3-4 hours each day, all while trying to balance our schoolwork and other activities outside of the show. On the weekends, in addition to building the show, we were also working on strengthening and conditioning as a cast, since this is a very physical show. There are a lot of fight scenes throughout the show, and for my character specifically, not much rest time between scenes, so it was important to build up strength and breath.
We also had workshops throughout the rehearsal process to work on choreography, fighting, and puppetry. Our choreographers for the show were the two presidents of the Dance Ensemble, and our dance numbers were super fun and silly. Since the show takes place in the 90’s, there was definitely an incorporation of moves like the running man, as well as iconic songs, such as “Ice Ice Baby” and “Whomp There it Is”. We had a fight choreographer and her assistance fly in from New York to help choreograph our fight scenes. We worked with real steel prop weapons, such as swords, shields and knives, which I had never worked with before. The first thing I noticed was how heavy the weapons were! There was no room for flimsy, cheap materials in this show! All of our fights were incredibly specific, and we had to know exactly when and where we were attempting to hit another person, and how to safely block and returns blows. We learned specific vocabulary for fighting, to help make it easier to learn the choreography. With puppets, we had a professional puppeteer bring her supplies to us and teach us about the history of puppetry, as well as work with us with different kinds of puppets, to get used to how they work and feel. Most of our monsters in the show are puppets, which is the style of the playwright Qui Nyguyen, as well as a little bit of imagination. I personally do not get to handle puppets in the show, but several other cast members were able to work heavily with different kinds of puppets.
Me rehearsing the final scene of "She Kills Monsters".

Me rehearsing the final scene of “She Kills Monsters”.

I’ve done several shows here at Juniata within the Theatre Department, and I can definitely say this is the most intricate and difficult show I have ever worked on. Not only was it incredibly physical and emotional for me, but the entire premise of the show is so incredible and deep and beautiful. I truly have fallen in love with this genre of fantasy comedy, and I have had such an fantastic time working on the show. We have already had three performances so far, two of which were completely sold out, and we have three more this coming weekend. If you haven’t seen the show yet or got your tickets, be sure to check out the Theatre Department homepage for ticket information. Our final shows are October 26th, 27th and 28th! I hope to see you there!

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