University of Southern Mississippi vocalist student Andrea Laitano doesn’t have to sing for her diploma at Friday’s morning commencement exercise.
But fellow students and audience members may think otherwise, since Laitano is receiving her master’s degree in between performing the national anthem and alma mater.
Laitano and husband and fellow graduate vocalist student Ronald Laitano were recommended by School of Music vocal performance faculty to perform for Friday’s commencement exercises. Both receive their master’s degrees at the 10 a.m. ceremony, when Andrea performs. Ronald will sing at the 3 p.m. commencement.
“It’s humbling, because there are a lot of extremely talented musicians at the school and because we were both chosen to sing on our own graduation day,” Ronald said.
“This is a great honor and my parents are really proud for me,” Andrea said. “Ronald’s parents are also proud, and love it whenever he sings at an event. Plus, he’s the first person in his family to earn a graduate degree, so they’re especially excited about this occasion.”
The Laitanos met six years ago as undergraduates when Andrea was working on her bachelor’s degree at Southern Miss and Ronald, a native of Honduras, was studying at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Both have performed in a variety of ensemble events on and off campus, including with the Southern Miss Symphony Orchestra and the New Orleans Opera Company.
“They were chosen because they’re outstanding students and good citizens of the university community,” said Greg Fuller, director of choral activities at Southern Miss.
Andrea, who also teaches piano and voice, said her passion for singing gives her a sense of accomplishment, especially when she makes a positive connection with her audience. That’s her goal for her performance Friday.
“Both songs include words that stir deep emotions about both our alma mater and our country,” Andrea Laitano said. “And with everything that’s going on both at home and abroad, I want them to feel pride and joy about America and Southern Miss when I sing.”
The couple confesses to having a slight case of the jitters in anticipation of their task. Accustomed to dim lighting at most of their performances, they typically see little of their audience, but the throng of graduates, proud parents and friends and dignitaries on Friday will be in plain view.
“There’s going to be a lot of people there,” Andrea laughed. “But he (Ronald) said it would be a piece of cake.”
Ronald also sang at the spring commencement exercise. But though he’s experienced, he understands how a seasoned performer in any profession can get the butterflies before a large audience, even doing what’s considered a routine task.
“It’s one the easier songs to sing (national anthem), but for some reason it’s those easy, ordinary tasks that wind up bringing out the nerves,” he said. “We’ve both sang it numerous times, but every time it’s new and fresh.
“It’s like a kicker lining up for a chip-shot extra point,” he said, borrowing a sports analogy. “He’s practiced it a thousand times, but when the moment actually comes he’s thinking, ‘Why do I have this tingly, nervous feeling?’”
Voice professor Maryanne Kyle has full confidence in the Laitanos, her students for a number of years. “They’re very dedicated singers and artists,” she said. “It’s a natural for us to feature them at commencement because they’re such wonderful ambassadors for the university.”
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.