What do you do?
It seems like such a straightforward question. But for 2008 Coca-Cola Scholar Will Thomason, there isn’t an easy answer.
While he attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Will tried on roles as a comic strip writer, coach, mentor, volunteer, blogger, counselor, advocate, advisor—and, of course, student.
Since graduating from UNC with a degree in business administration in May 2012, Will’s answer to that question hasn’t gotten any simpler.
Right now Will lives in New York, where his main focus is attending Joffrey Ballet School and securing work as a dancer.
Yet it isn’t ballet alone that fills Will’s days. He works as a marketing and events coordinator for ScrapKins, a startup company that helps kids make recycled art and toys out of materials found around the house.
He also works for a catering company, serving as a liaison for the servers. (After a year spent surviving solely on food scraps from UNC events to raise awareness of food waste on campus and globally, he’s also trying to figure out a way to get leftover food from the catering company into the hands of people in New York City who most need it.)
For a little extra cash, he occasionally works as a DJ at a karaoke bar. In August he’ll do a stint as a counselor for Camp Our Time, a musical theater camp for kids who stutter. And soon he’s hoping to begin a part-time position as an academic coordinator and tutor for other trainees at Joffrey Ballet School.
Yet most days, Will’s focus is on ballet. “That’s my number one priority and something I spend a lot of time doing,” he says. The rest falls into place on evenings or weekends or even in the 15 minutes between classes and auditions.
“The biggest thing has been juggling these jobs while also trying to have some semblance of a social life and get some sleep,” Will says. “I haven’t been successful at those recently. That’s something I’m figuring out the hard way.”
It might all seem a bit random, but that doesn’t bother Will in the least.
“You don’t have to do this whole thing where you work one job right after graduation until the end of your life. You can explore a variety of different options,” Will says. “That was my philosophy in high school, in college, and now at the beginning of my career.”
In college, his involvement in a variety of activities was even more extreme than now, he says. “I think it’s something Coke Scholars are known for. I tried to do it all.”
While an undergrad at UNC, Will served as an advisor to the chancellor of the university, got involved with student government, performed with an a capella group and established a coalition of a capella groups at the university, organized a benefit concert raising more than $5,000 for Haiti earthquake victims, and wrote comic strips for the student newspaper.
Yet his work extended far beyond campus too, with internships for organizations including Church World Service Refugee Resettlement, Homeless Outreach Poverty Eradication, and a nonprofit located in The Gambia. He gained national news coverage for his LGBTQ activism. And he spent time in Mendoza, Argentina, and Vientiane, Laos, immersing himself in different cultures while working as an English tutor.
With every opportunity Will takes, he says he’s looking for personal and professional growth. That’s how he got hooked on dancing in the first place—by signing up for a class his senior year, just to try it out.
What started as a once-a-week workshop turned into much more. Before long Will was cast in the role of the wolf in a production of Peter and the Wolf and, thanks to support from a few key mentors, was able to take his interest in dance to the next level by moving to New York.
His goal now is to pursue a freelance dance career. Currently, he’s auditioning for a variety of opportunities with the hope of joining a traveling company or Broadway show.
Once he’s danced out, Will sees himself getting involved in higher education administration. Or maybe joining the Peace Corps to satisfy his continued interest in service abroad. Or perhaps he’ll be working to help another startup like ScrapKins succeed.
“I am such a fan of a viewpoint of life as a curvy road as opposed to a straight road,” Will says. “I’m really open to taking advantage of every opportunity and keeping my mind and heart open.”
Regardless where life takes him, odds are the question “What do you do?” will never be an easy one for Will Thomason to answer.
By Julie (Collins) Bates, a 2001 Coca-Cola Scholar and editor of Quest. She works as a freelance writer, editor, and communications consultant and will begin work on her doctorate in English Studies at Illinois State University this fall.