Soprano, Entrepreneur, and Lawrentian: Monica Yunus '95

The Omaha World-Herald described the voice of acclaimed American soprano Monica Yunus '95 "like the best of diamonds: sparkling and multifaceted."

The Omaha World-Herald described the voice of acclaimed American soprano Monica Yunus '95 "like the best of diamonds: sparkling and multifaceted." After attending The Juilliard School, Yunus starred in operas from Engelbert Humperdink's Hansel and Gretel to Amadeus Mozart's Don Giovanni and Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème. A regular performer at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City between 2003 and 2014, Yunus also founded Sing for Hope, an organization that hosts arts programs in underserved communities. She is currently a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and celebrates her 25th Lawrenceville reunion this weekend.

Yunus had been training as a musician before Lawrenceville, attending The Boston University Tanglewood Institute, an elite high school music program. Some of her colleagues at the program went to boarding schools, which is what initially inspired her to apply to the School.

At Lawrenceville, Yunus served as a Kirby House Prefect and a member of The Lawrentians. Above all, Yunus' favorite memory of Lawrenceville was when every single member of her House came to her solo recital. The experience highlighted the tight-knit Lawrenceville community that she was a part of, despite spending only two years at Lawrenceville.

Though she came to The Lawrenceville School already focused on pursuing a career in music, Yunus noted that her experience taught her that being passionate about one topic and being well-rounded are not mutually exclusive. One phrase that Yunus mentioned was that "musicians and artists are like chameleons in that they really blend in in many different circles;" she believes that Lawrenceville students share this ability. She commented that the diversity in subjects she was exposed to enabled her "to swim in a lot of different ways," a skill that aided her in her future life and career. "[Lawrenceville] nurtured a curiosity that I had for many different topics," she said.

Yunus was not only inspired by the diversity of the student body itself, but by the diversity of student passions. For instance, Yunus was fascinated by a fellow student who was tracking the fall of The Soviet Union and was a part of the conversation with other scholars. "Because there were no podcasts or blogs, as a high school student, you aren't necessarily invited into those conversations. I remember thinking, 'Wow, that is her passion, and she could insert herself into the conversation because she was knowledgeable [about the topic],'" said Yunus.

Similar to the current COVID-19 situation, Yunus lived through a time of crisis and it prompted her to develop non-profit organization Sing for Hope. A student at The Juilliard School during 9/11, Yunus was "forced to think about what [she] was doing in a practice room for hours and hours a day when there was so much crisis going on." In the days after 9/11, Yunus and several others sang at a nearby firehouse that lost 13 men. This experience served as a moment of inspiration for Yunus, who "felt really compelled to try to do something on a regular basis where artists could share their talents with communities that needed it." Today, thousands of volunteering artists support Yunus' initiative.

During today's global emergency, Sing for Hope is piloting "Sing for Hope Grams," a program to keep artists and communities engaged with each other. "Sing for Hope Grams" allows you to order a gram online, and an artist partner will call the recipient and perform over the phone.

Some advice Yunus gave to students who may be considering pursuing the arts was that "studying the arts gives you an incredible vista of the world. As the world continues to change, adaptability and resilience are the skills that will be very hard to teach, but through the arts, you can teach those skills." "You will be able to use [them] and apply to stay nimble and flexible. No matter if you go into something else eventually, you're going to have an incredible foundation. [They're] applicable to many things and in our very connected, global world, a strong skill set to have," Yunus concluded.


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