College of Music Vocal Arts Graduate Honored with MSU Young Alumni Award

Jonathan Kirkland who played George Washington in the production of “Hamilton,” recalls experience at MSU. 

Jonathan Kirkland (center) plays the role of George Washington in Chicago’s production of Hamilton. Photo © Joan Marcus 2016.
Scott Westerman, executive director or the MSU Alumni Association poses with Jonathan Kirkland after the awards ceremony.
Kirkland takes a moment to acknowledge the honor and share his appreciation with attendees.

Although Jonathan Kirkland regularly takes the stage in one of musical theatre’s hottest shows, he was awestruck when he stepped on stage to receive the 2017 Young Alumni Award from Michigan State University.

Kirkland, a 2010 graduate of the MSU College of Music, was honored with the coveted award at the MSU Alumni Grand Awards hosted by the MSU Alumni Association during Homecoming Week. The award recognizes graduates of the last 10 years who have distinguished themselves through a high level of professional accomplishment early in their career.

Kirkland checks all the boxes as a rising star and vocalist whose most recent role includes George Washington in the Chicago Company of “Hamilton.” His stellar resume includes a long list of achievements, including roles in regional and off-Broadway productions, operas, theatre companies and television productions.

“It’s awesome, it’s an honor, and I was so surprised to be considered,” says Kirkland of the award. “I love my school and everything MSU did for me. They’ve done so much for me, far beyond just my career. This honor means the world to me.”

Kirkland is always quick to deflect attention from himself and to the people at MSU who he says gave him the confidence to pursue his passion. One of those individuals is Professor of Voice Richard Fracker, chair of the MSU Vocal Arts Area.  

Fracker remembers the day Kirkland auditioned for the MSU vocal arts program, as well as other moments when Kirkland demonstrated his drive, immense talent, and ability to reflect on his artistry.

“Jon was always so eager and willing and just always worked,” says Fracker. “That isn’t necessarily a common trait. He has the ability to self-reflect and say ‘gosh, I have to do more of this, and this is how I have to change.’ Then he’ll do it. That trait and ability says so much about him and why he’s accomplished so much so quickly.”

As a member of the “Hamilton” cast, Kirkland’s life consists of eight shows a week, six days a week, book-ended by other show-related prep and demands. He affirms that Fracker and Director of the MSU Opera Theatre Melanie Helton, professor of voice, prepared him for the rigors theatre life through fully-staged operas, mock auditions, and numerous performances.

“The training I received at MSU helped me move forward and to know how to be in the game,” he says. “I learned about the nature of the beast, and saw that as an artist, you often can’t always go to the party or do all the normal things that people get to do.”

Looking ahead, Kirkland says his plan is to always get better, mature in his craft, and to always follow his heart. It’s a lesson he learned from MSU and from Fracker: to be bold, courageous, and hold your head high in whatever you do. That lesson mirrors what he hopes can be conveyed through “Hamilton”—an artwork that strives to promote understanding and infuse love in cultures divided by hate.

“At the end of the day, our forefathers believed we could have progress in this nation, and knew that inhumane treatment of others was out of bounds,” Kirkland says. “My hope is to inspire young people to see that anyone can be anything, that we are all equal, and that no one is better than anyone else.”

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