When Samantha Thomas sings, the hustle and bustle of high school melts away.
“When you live in such a small town, like I do, it’s easy to let your mind go, ‘Oh, I didn’t get this part because I’m not popular,’ or ‘I’m not good enough for this,’” the Shawnee High School junior explained.
This year, Thomas was the only student at Shawnee accepted into the All-Eastern Mixed Choir, where she will sing alongside students from across the eastern United States.
“I was really shocked,” she said.
Thomas has faced her fair share of rejection. She’s loved musicals and theater for years, and when she was cut from her seventh grade cast list, she vowed to get serious about excelling in music.
“School productions do have a lot to do with popularity,” Thomas noted. “That’s not how it is in the real world. It’s about talent and persistence. If you’re rejected, that means there’s something specific for you to work on with your craft, rather than working on your social status.”
Since joining choir in middle school, Thomas has been accepted to All-South Jersey Choir and All-State Choir.
“We are extremely proud of Samantha,” said Choir Director Robert Joubert. “She has worked tirelessly over the last few years to refine her craft, and it shows.”
Thomas said Joubert and musical director Gina Kehl have always believed in her.
“I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish really anything that I have without any of my directors,” she said. “They’ve seen all of the potential that everyone can have and never took anyone away from their dreams.”
After high school, Thomas plans to study music therapy. She wants to give others the feeling she has while singing or listening to music.
“Singing has always been an escape,” Thomas said. “Whether it be just singing along to your favorite song in your room or taking time to create a painting or anything like that. It’s letting your mind focus on something that makes you happy.”
Many arts programs have been put on hold during COVID. Shawnee’s school musical and All- State Choir were canceled, something that Samantha said is disappointing.
“Having opportunities in the arts, at least for me personally, helps a lot with mental health,” she acknowledged.
“Whether you’re the best of the best or you’re just doing it for fun, I think it’s just important to make sure that you are focused on something that makes you happy,” Thomas added, “and I know that the arts are something that does that for a lot of people.”