The Value of Cheerleaders

how can you

How can you empower your friends to reach their full potential? How important is it to cheer them on along the way?

Ideas come to me at random times. These were the thoughts that crossed my mind late last week. I wrote the rough draft for this post from the waiting room of an opera company, where I was standing by while my friend was auditioning. Listening to her sing, I was reminded that following one’s dream can be hard; so it is important to have cheerleaders along the way.

My friend, Shantelle Przybylo, is an opera singer who travels throughout the world. She came all the way to British Columbia from Washington, D.C., to sing live in front of the opera directors.

While in the waiting room, I couldn’t help but reflect on how far both of us had come in achieving our dreams. (Read her past interview on my blog here).

Shantelle and I in Yaletown.
Shantelle and I in Yaletown.

Shantelle and I met in the first week of grad school, as we both lived in the same residence, Wycliffe College. Being on the same team during a game of Ultimate Frisbee for orientation week, we connected and became fast friends. We continued to support each other in intramural volleyball, during our studies, and in our personal lives. Since leaving grad school, our careers have taken us to different locations but we still remain present in each other’s lives.

Just last week, though, after a three-year absence due to our schedules and work locations, we were able to see each other in person once again: we didn’t stop laughing the whole time! Not only does Shantelle bring such melodious joy to the stage – she brings it through to the people closest to her. Just have a listen to her laugh, and you will instantly be perked up. She is one of my closest friends, and I’m so proud of her! We are each other’s cheerleaders!

Look at the chocolates she brought me as a gift. Shantelle bought them because they say "Go Diva!" - which was our nickname at U of T.
Look at the chocolates she brought me as a gift. Shantelle bought them because they say "Go Diva!" - which was our nickname at U of T.

Having first known Shantelle as a student, it’s been really cool to witness her transition to a professional. Since the age of six, she had a strong interest in music and knew that she wanted a career in singing. By the age of nine, she had already sung in musical theatre productions and realized her passion for opera when she began studying with a classically-trained singer. After high school, she obtained her Master of Music Performance from the University of Toronto (where I met her). She then took up a position as opera singer in the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program at the Washington National Opera Company, a career move that’s allowed her to perform at venues such as the Kennedy Center, the White House, and the Smithsonian Institute.

having fun in van 2

Shantelle’s gift of singing is such a delight to all those who hear her. It is clear that she was born to sing, as she inspires and brings people to a better place through her performances. When I asked her what was her favourite part of opera, she answered: “I get to brighten the days of audience members with my singing.” Shantelle feels most confident and at her fullest potential when she is on stage – that is where she shines and brings joy to so many who get to be in her presence.

Shantelle’s professional journey takes courage, as it is unconventional and very competitive. She puts one foot in front of the other travelling to leave her mark on the world. Due to the competition that exists in opera (i.e., limited spaces for opportunity and an abundance of talented singers), she travels throughout the globe to pursue her passion for singing and performing. Her dedication is empowering!

But Shantelle doesn’t think only of her own path. She thinks of others too. In my personal journey, for example, she has always been very supportive. So when she told me that she had a couple of auditions on the West Coast, I had to go cheer her on! Since we first met at the University of Toronto, I have had the privilege to witness the courage, passion, and dedication she has for spreading her joy to the world through performing – she has such beautiful voice and heart!

Feeding the seals at Oak Bay Marina.
Feeding the seals at Oak Bay Marina.

Through being there to cheer Shantelle on, I have learned that being a professional singer is much like sport. The hours and hours of practicing, training, and taking care of her voice – it’s not just physical preparation, it’s also mental. What I realized through talking with her and being with her through her preparation for the auditions – I got a taste of the long process to the stage; it can be lonely.

That is why the presence of cheerleaders/wonderful friends is so important. Yes, Shantelle’s avenue is different, but we are on very similar paths – both professional women on our own in the world going after our dreams. We try to support each other by being present along the way.

We all think that we have to achieve success on our own and that we shouldn’t want or need support. But such backing is so valuable, and it makes the journey way more fun!

Thank you, Shantelle, for your visit to the West Coast and for reaffirming the importance of friends cheering one another along life’s way.

You have already left such a mark on the world by letting us all hear your beautiful voice!

Thank you for reading and your presence at this beach retreat. You Rock! I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the Comments section below.

See you at the beach!