All the students of the College Experience surely had stars in their eyes on Monday, March 11, 2019. A national celebrity came to visit them for the two Student Forums composed of freshmen and seniors, respectively. Heather Kuzmich, who competed on the 7th Season of America’s Next Top Model Cycle 9 in 2007, visited our program to speak to the students about her experiences being famous and the realities of pursuing one’s dreams.
Plenty of our students have ambitions to be movie stars, singers, and more. Heather is an example of someone who has achieved an unusual amount of success and is thus a perfect role model for the students. Another notable fact about Heather is that she is on the autism spectrum with a case of Asperger’s syndrome. Asperger’s both helped and hindered her success on America’s Next Top Model when she was mentored by the supermodel, Tyra Banks.
Heather started out the presentation by asking the students,
“What’s normal? What’s cool? How do you gauge success? When are you successful? And who gets to decide all this? Exactly! These are questions I have been asking myself, and I assume you have been asking too along with ‘why am I different.’
When I was fifteen I was diagnosed with autism and my doctor described it as a person with repetitive behavior, reclusive behavior, interests, restrictive activities and just quirks. To be honest, that just described everyone I have ever met. Everyone is off when they break routine, everyone has restrictive behaviors and interests they obsess over. I am not the only one! No one is normal.”
Her humor kept us all engaged as she pondered about why it is appropriate for her uncle to talk about some “stupid football game” for two hours but when she talks about “the intricacies of Anime” suddenly she is the weirdo!
Heather reminded the students about how much work it truly takes in order to maintain success of any kind and the chances of it lasting forever are very slim. Heather has found work in other areas after her active celebrity status became less intense such as teaching graphic design to youths with a company called, YEP Nation and her speech to the College Experience was her first public oration in five years. Heather hopes there will be more talks to other venues regarding such important subjects.
The message that Heather drove home to the students is how important it is to concentrate on the practical life and professional skills the program teaches even as they are reaching for the stars in other areas. She also encouraged them to be extremely careful of the content they choose to post on Facebook and YouTube because it has the chance to last forever.
While Heather has always been extremely cautious about what she posts (or does not post) on social media, she has seen the mistakes of many others in the celebrity world. Heather was candid about some of the catty drama that took place from the other models on the show and how hurtful it was to endure this treatment in front of a national audience. But she did acknowledge there were plenty of other moments that were very cordial that did not make it on the show in the editing process. Just a week earlier in the Anti-Bullying Forum, the students learned the difference between downright bullying and a random “mean moment” or isolated incident.
One of Heather’s most poignant pieces of feedback to the students is to not take rejection so personally even though it is easier said than done. There have been plenty of times when she has been rejected from modeling jobs simply due to the fact that she was not the right person at that particular time for the assignment. Chances are that rejection will happen on a regular basis as one pursues success.
The advice that Tyra Banks gave her at the end of the show is that nobody cares that she has a disability in the world of business and entertainment. What matters more than anything else is showing she has something to offer. The students are always reminded that they have something to offer a business that is fortunate enough to take a chance on their abilities and we are fortunate to have plenty of businesses in the Albany area who see the students’ skills instead of the superficial challenges that may have provoked social ridicule and rejection in the past.
Heather made special arrangements to join the alumni, Amy Maiorano and Nick Williams, for lunch in the Madison Cafe before her second talk in the afternoon to speak to them about going about their own dreams of similar success and signed autographs for the students. She is featured in a photograph with the College Experience seniors in addition to Amy, Nick, and staff member, Jesse Saperstein during their lunch. Considering she has expressed interest in remaining involved with the program, we look forward to hopefully seeing her at future events!