Barry McNamara  |  Published September 09, 2020

Not Waiting for Tomorrow to Make an Impression

First-year student Grace Cornelius ’24 has already added to her impressive collection of COVID-inspired artworks at Monmouth; preparing to start campus theatre experience next.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – No longer needing to brush up on her lines as librarian Marian Paroo for a high school production of The Music Man, Grace Cornelius turned her attention to art and to a collection that’s continued to grow during her freshman year at Monmouth College.

GRACE CORNELIUS '24: Talented artist shares her COVID-inspired works with Introduction ... GRACE CORNELIUS '24: Talented artist shares her COVID-inspired works with "Introduction to Liberal Arts" class.Cornelius’s senior year at Wheaton-Warrenville South High School outside Chicago was going smoothly until the world suddenly turned upside down in March.

“Two days after the cast list for The Music Man came out, the whole show was canceled by COVID-19,” said Cornelius. “So I had time to return my focus to art. I remember reading the news and just hearing about COVID everywhere. It was really all anyone could think about then. It literally engulfed the entire world.”

Cornelius first created a work that symbolized how much the pandemic was on everyone’s mind, with the now-familiar visual representation of the virus emerging from the head of a subject. Another of the works she created while still in high school was that of an armless masked nurse helplessly crying while an EKG flatlines behind her.

Since arriving at Monmouth, Cornelius has completed a three-dimensional work titled Insulate, drawn from the idea of a pregnant mother trying to protect her unborn child from the dangers of the world it’s about to enter. The mixed-media work is on display in McMichael Academic Hall, home of the College’s art department.

In addition to working through her feelings about COVID through art, Cornelius has also addressed the topic through discussions and writings in the common first-year course “Introduction to Liberal Arts.” Her section is taught by Carolyn Suda.

“I asked my class to write a paper on what they learned about themselves during the spring and summer of COVID 19 – a thoughtful reflection,” said Suda. “Grace shared her COVID collection. She used her time to create and to solidify her decision to major in art. I was blown away.”

And the “Introduction to Liberal Arts” has also made an impression on Cornelius.

“I absolutely love that class and the readings we’ve done,” said Cornelius of ILA, which is part of the College’s four-year Integrated Studies curriculum. “I love literature and talking about what the authors are trying to say and how they’re saying it. The class just makes you think in a way that a lot of the classes I’ve taken haven’t done before.”

The Monmouth connection

That Cornelius is feeling inspired and enlightened at Monmouth is of no surprise to at least one person – 1975 alumna Jerri Picha. A neighbor of the Cornelius family, Picha recommended more than a year ago that Cornelius look into attending her alma mater.

“I remember her telling me, ‘Just look at it. I think it would suit you,’” said Cornelius.

The attraction was immediate.

“I came on that first visit, and the minute I stepped on campus, I didn’t want to leave,” she said. “It just felt like home.”

During that August 2019 visit, Cornelius met with theatre professor Todd Quick and art professor Janis Wunderlich to learn more about the two subjects that comprise her double major. She returned during the winter to compete for membership in the College’s prestigious Stockdale Fellows leadership development program.

On a third visit, held shortly before the pandemic, she saw a staging of The Real Inspector Hound, directed by Quick, and had the chance, along with other family members, to “throw on the wheel” with Wunderlich, who specializes in ceramics.

“I knew I probably should look at a few other colleges, but at every one of the campuses I visited, I always compared them to how I felt at Monmouth,” said Cornelius, who is considering turning her art major into a career in interior design or fashion.

In a few days, Cornelius will make her Monmouth College stage debut at FusionFest. She also plans to audition for a role in the student-directed production of Dead Man’s Cell Phone, a 2007 play by Sarah Ruhl.

Although her school’s production of The Music Man was cut short, it seems clear that the talented first-year student picked up on one of its major sentiments, uttered in response to her character saying to Harold Hill, “Maybe tomorrow.”

“You pile up enough tomorrows,” says Hill, “and you’ll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays.”

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