RJ Gray has had a spectacular senior year with a leading role in the school’s musical production of “42nd Street.” At the same time he rehearsed on stage, he was also studying for the state Academic Decathlon competition. RJ was a key member of the JMPS Academic Decathlon team, and he won several medals at the regional competition, including a bronze in social science, a silver in interview, and a silver in economics. He has maintained a strong academic record while balancing multiple extracurricular commitments and a job!
Q. What sparked your interest in performing arts?
A. Honestly, I was a very shy kid. I was anti-social for several years. Recently, I decided that if I did not do anything during my four years of high school, I would look back and regret the fact that I was not involved with anything. I have always enjoyed watching and listening to musicals. After all, I love music. The thought of becoming somebody else and showing what it’s like to live in another world, along with music, really attracted me to theater. Once I decided to try out, I lost my stage fright. I always sang my heart out and gave my all to the acting. I would say that I was meant for the stage. Playing violin for about eight years is something I can be proud of. I was first introduced to the violin through my elementary school. I started in fourth grade, and I never stopped. I am not perfect at it, but nothing could stop me playing that delicate piece of wood. Going back to being shy, it took a while for me to join my school’s drumline. I always wanted to play a percussion instrument. In fact, I dreamed about being in the drumline to play the snare before I worked up the courage to finally join. Now that I have, I would never go back.
Q. How was your experience being cast as a lead in 42nd Street?
A. Last year, I decided to try out as a lead in The Producers. However, I did not get the lead. It might sound crazy, but I am glad I did not get that lead. I settled with a minor part that happened to have a solo, and that is what made me happy. It got me ready for this year. For 42nd Street, I worked harder on my audition, and I completely crushed it. I did not necessarily expect to get a lead part, yet the director of the show had faith in me. He gave me a lead part. Although it was not just a lead part. I had the most lines in the script, had two solos, and was the overall male lead. I was nervous at first, of course. After all, I have never done anything this extreme before. I jumped in head first. I studied my lines, worked on my acting, and (like I said before) sang my heart out. The support from my friends, the applause from the audience, and the satisfaction of doing a magnificent job at a part that I was nervous about getting at first made the whole experience worth it. I will never forget it. I will never forget singing the powerful finale on stage as the lights dimmed and the applause increased on closing night of 42nd Street
Q. Can you tell us about your recent participation in the Academic Decathlon?
A. I have been in Academic Decathlon, or Acadec, for three years now. I have always enjoyed it; but this year stood out from the others. As a senior, I was able to look at things in a whole new perspective. I worked harder than I ever had before, I bonded with my Acadec teammates a lot more, and I was able to enjoy my coach’s last year as the head coach for the Academic Decathlon team. During the previous years, I was upset whenever I did not earn a medal. However, I did not do anything to change that, until this year. During the regional competition, I earned a bronze medal in Social Science, a silver medal in Economics, and a silver medal in Interview. I was the leading medal earner for my team and helped bring us to the state competition. We unfortunately did not make nationals this year but that did not stop our team from celebrating a successful season, and a final season to me and my fellow seniors on the Acadec team.
Q. Where’s your favorite camping/fishing spot?
A. It is always hard to choose a favorite anything. It is hard to pick a favorite movie, show, or color at times. Just like these, a favorite camping or fishing spot is hard for me to choose. Although, if I had to choose a favorite camping spot, I would have to say around the east side of Payson, AZ on the Indian Reservation. It is just so untouched and quiet there. The wildflowers grow everywhere and the creek runs powerfully in the spring. If I had to choose a favorite fishing spot, I would probably say Roosevelt Lake. I would say the exact spot, but that is a secret that only my friends and I can share.
Q. Do you have a plan for the coming years? What are you most excited about?
A. I have plans to go to ASU to complete my Bachelors in English. While at ASU, I plan on joining AROTC (Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corp) as well as many other clubs such as performing arts clubs, writing clubs, and new, miscellaneous clubs that might interest me. I also plan on graduating as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army. While in college, I am definitely planning on playing my instruments and joining community theater. I would say that, in this very moment, I am most excited for community theater as it is one of my passions. Though there is the possibility to write a book sometime in the future.
Q. Do you have a favorite writing piece?
A. If you mean my favorite piece that I wrote, I would have to say that my favorite is a short story that I wrote a while back about an unfortunate group in a huge accident that takes place in a mine. I have plans to turn that short story into a novel in the future. I feel that I could turn that simple concept into a thrilling book. My most successful piece was a poem that I wrote a while back, in elementary school. It was a Haiku that was published in a collection of many other poems written by young poets.
Q. As a student and athlete, is it difficult to balance a job with all of your commitments?
A. I would say so, yeah. Sometimes work interferes with my student life. Once in a while I have late nights because I will work, then stay up studying. However, it is all worth it. Having work along with school and extracurriculars is difficult, but it has been helping me learn how to budget my time wisely, and balance multiple tasks at once. That is an ability that will come in handy later during college, then life.
Q. Do you have any major lessons learned while at James Madison Prep?
A. Throughout my years at James Madison Prep, I could say that I have learned two major lessons that I will never forget. The first is: Always take risks and try new things. If you go through life without going out of your comfort zone a few times, you will live in regret through life. Try a new club, or maybe a new hobby that might interest you. The second is: Sometimes it is important to put your friends and family before you. It is always good to make yourself the priority, but sometimes a friend or family member’s happiness is just as important as your own. Putting a smile on someone else’s face might just be worth it.
RJ Gray is a senior at James Madison Preparatory School.