Iliana Mendez, center, with Antonio Stroud, Naheem Garcia, and Derek Lindesay
My main goal for this competition wasn't winning (though it would have been a bonus if I did.) After my parents divorced, I rarely get to see my father. My father had no idea about my passion for theater and what my interests were. When I told my father about this competition, he told me "I want to see you, mama. When is it?" Just those two sentences made my year. My father who I only got to see 5-8 times a year wanted to see me perform—wanted to see do what I love to do. And he came to see me and I cried. My father was about to cry as well! He told me that he has never seen me shine like that . . . It was one of the major things to happen over there. The fact that my father got a glimpse of what I expect my future to look was absolutely one of the most important things to happen.
The overall experience was surreal! I got so close to almost everyone on the trip! I made amazing friends from New York, Chicago, LA — everyone, really! I learned about their states and how. Things work over there which I found really interesting. When I lost, I was extremely let down and disappointed in myself. I felt like I wasn't good enough (yeah, dramatic!) but the amount of support I got from the people over there amazed me! I got support from the contestants from New York, Seattle, LA, Chicago, and Pittsburg and I honestly felt a whole lot better! That was my first actual rejection and I realized that entering this field, I was gonna face many disappointments. This was my first taste of it!
This experience basically confirmed my love for theater. This was my first year in theater and I already accomplished more than. I thought! I was a National Finalist! A WILSONIAN SOLDIER! This confirmed my destiny, honestly. I love performing and I love shining on a stage where everyone can see me do what I do best.
AWMC changed my life! Thanks to the Huntington and Kenny Leon for bringing this competition! It really helps people find themselves, even through a 2 minutes monologue, students are finding themselves. I already have someone who is interested in entering the competition next year at Brighton!