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Queens Graduate-To-Be Lands ‘Dream Job’ in Music

Apr 26, 2024 By Queens University Communications

When Jill Willis ’24 graduated from high school in Long Island, the adults in her life dissuaded her from studying music — despite her obvious love for it — and encouraged her toward a business education instead. Her musical aspirations were postponed, it seemed, indefinitely. It would take more than 30 years before she could revisit them at Queens University of Charlotte.

“I sort of made my way with sheer grit in life,” Willis said. “I did very well financially and was successful in the fields that I was in, and I raised a family. But my love, my passion and, really, my natural abilities are in music. I have known that my whole life; it just took me a long way to get there.”

Willis was in her fifth year working as a church music associate when COVID-19 hit in 2020. It was a job that was fitting for her church and musical background, yet she felt that she lacked the technical knowledge a formal education would provide. That’s when she decided to stop working full time to go back to school.

For Willis and her husband, it was a monumental life change. In the past, determination had helped her persevere and it would bolster her once again for this challenge.

“I said, ‘I am going to have my degree and I’m going to get this finished. Come hell or high water, I’m going to get it done,’” Willis said.

So, she enrolled at Central Piedmont Community College, attended classes five days a week, worked retail and babysitting jobs to make ends meet, and obtained her associate in fine arts degree.

But Willis realized she couldn’t stop there. She felt compelled to go on to the next level to achieve a Bachelor of Arts in music. Her choices were between Queens and another local, private university that was much more conveniently located for her. Her first visit and audition took place at the other university; however, it was immediately apparent that it wasn’t a good fit for her.

Queens, on the other hand, was a different story.

“From the moment I stepped foot onto the Queens campus I felt welcomed and wanted,” said Willis. “While I am certainly not the typical college student, I did not want to be treated as an anomaly. From the students who led my tour to the faculty who attended my audition, not one person made me feel out of place. I knew I was home.”

Willis’ primary instrument is voice; she also plays piano. She loves leading people in music and — even though it’s not traditionally offered at Queens — her degree allows for a concentration in conducting.

“My senior recital in November was the very first conducting recital that Queens has ever had,” Willis said. “I had to assemble my own choir and choose my music, and it was beautiful.”

She contends that her entire experience at Queens has been exceptional, especially due to the support and of the music and music therapy faculty and staff.

“All I had desired to do was quietly finish my degree and go on about my life,” Willis said. “But Queens has been so much more than that. Without a doubt, I am a far better person than I was when I started.” 

After commencement on May 4, Willis’ musical dreams will no longer be delayed.

“On Sunday, May 5, I start my dream job,” she said. “It’s full time, at a huge church, and I will be in charge of music and worship arts … and that’s what I went to school for!”

By Nicole Ward Beckley