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Sylvia Adome ’22 from Busia, Kenya, is one of only 42 students in the country to be awarded the 2022 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. The prestigious yearlong program provides fellows with $36,000 and “the opportunity to test their aspirations and abilities through a personal project experienced on an international scale.” 

Adome, a double major in theater and economics at Whitman College, will spend 12 months traveling the United Kingdom, Greece, France, Canada, Brazil, Australia and Jamaica for her project “Exploring Spaces for African Artists in the Diaspora.” 

“My goal is to explore and understand how African artists are navigating predominantly Westernized artistic spaces. I will investigate the figurative burden the word ‘home’ bears among African performers and how artistic ‘homes’ can emerge and flourish in foreign spaces,” Adome wrote in her project proposal.  

Taking the Stage 

When she first arrived at Whitman, Adome knew she wanted to study economics but had never considered taking a theater class. Realizing she needed to fulfill humanities requirements, she enrolled in Beginning Acting primarily because her adviser at the time, Jessica Cerullo, was an associate professor in the theater and dance department.

The experience was revelatory for Adome, who explains that cultural norms in her home country call for women to be shy. “Taking acting, I learned how to be more vulnerable as well as confident in my own being,” she says. 

Adome caught the theater bug and went on to declare it as her second major in her sophomore year. During her time at Whitman, she was engaged in every aspect of the theater program, from working in backstage production to performing on stage to writing her own plays.

In addition to winning the Dorothy Fiala Beaupré Scholarship and the Patron Award for her involvement in and commitment to theater, Adome served as president of the Whitman Drama Club in her senior year. As president, Adome’s main objective was to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment with the intention of inviting more students of color to the theater department through events such as the student-run One Act Play Festival. She also worked to create a more inclusive environment in the theater department by petitioning for more works by BIPOC playwrights on syllabi. 

Outside Whitman, Adome has actively engaged in Michael Chekhov Association summer workshops to expand her knowledge in theater and connect with a more diverse group of theater performers globally.

Supporting Cast

Adome, who plans to pursue a graduate degree in theater after her Watson year, believes the fellowship will allow her to explore something a master’s program may not: the areas where her two majors intersect.

“I’d like to try to navigate both environments—doing theater and understanding the economic aspects of theater. There’s no grad school that can teach that the way I want, but Watson is giving me that opportunity; the opportunity to find myself, career-wise, and also just as a person,” she says. 

Adome adds that she is grateful to a diverse group of Whitman community members—including faculty, staff and students—for supporting her during the Watson application process. 

“It takes a village to raise a leader and Watson says the fellows are leaders. I don't see myself as a leader, but if they do, it is because of the enormous support that Whitman has given me,” she says.