Faces of Mason

Photo Courtesy of the Washington Post

Photo Courtesy of the Washington Post

Alum, Thomas LeGro  

This year, Washington Post staff won a Pulitzer in the investigative reporting category for “purposeful and relentless reporting that changed the course of a Senate race in Alabama by revealing a candidate’s alleged past sexual harassment of teenage girls and subsequent efforts to undermine the journalism that exposed it,” according to the Pulitzer website. Specifically, Tom LeGro was credited for the video “Post reporter confronts woman who made false accusations against Roy Moore”

20 years ago, LeGro was a photo editor for Broadside (now known as Fourth Estate) and graduated from Mason with a BA in English (‘98).  

What role(s) did you have at Broadside?

Sometime in the mid-1990s, I started as a photographer for the Broadside. I had already studied photography and worked in a photo lab during high school. Early on while I was at GMU, I became friends with a couple of Broadside staffers and really hit it off with them. After the photo editor left, I took over. It seemed to happen very quickly. I was photo editor for a couple of years, assigning shoots, managing the darkroom and doing all of the film developing and printing. It was a ton of fun; none of it seemed like work. I also took some advanced photography classes in the fine arts department. Eventually, I left at the start of my senior year to go work with the photo department of the university relations office.

How did student media and/or Broadside help you in your journalism career?

Working at Broadside was immensely important as I started my career in journalism. It laid a very strong foundation: learning how to tell a story with images; working late hours; meeting deadlines; managing a staff and equipment. These are things only learned by doing; not necessarily inside a classroom.

After graduation, I entered the MFA creative writing program at GMU. While I was in this program, one of my Broadside friends got a job at The Washington Post. He helped me get an interview there. My Broadside experience plus being in the creative writing program got me that job and in the door. I’m still in touch with many people from my Broadside days.

Was winning the Pulitzer with your team something you had a thought about when working on the story, or was it a complete surprise? How did you react and celebrate?

Winning the Pulitzer Prize was definitely not on my mind while working on the stories. It’s safe to say no one on the team was thinking about the Pulitzer or any other prize. We were completely focused on our jobs as journalists — to report the story accurately and without favor. We understood that our work would get a lot of attention, of course, but that only made us more focused to get everything right and to be fair in our reporting. The stakes were just so high.

I can’t imagine any journalist thinks their work is going to win a Pulitzer Prize. There was a lot of amazing reporting done last year, but we knew that our stories were right up there with the others and had massive national impact. After we won the Toner Prize, I thought, ‘You know maybe we’d have shot, maybe be a finalist.’ But you just really don’t spend time worrying about that kind of stuff. We’re just too busy working! The day of the announcement was spent celebrating with the whole newsroom, family and friends. I took the next morning off, but came in to get right back to work. It’s an unbelievable honor.

Any advice/comments for student journalists at Mason?

It’s so important to be well-rounded. As a journalist, you will be asked to do or cover a variety of things in a variety of ways. If you’re a strong writer, spend a little time strengthening your photography or video shooting, and vice versa. This will give you the edge over another job candidate. Also, there are so many other skills that news organizations are looking for these days to strengthen traditional reporting: research, audience engagement, data journalism, coding, product design, software development. There are more and more ways to work in journalism these days.

Photo by Allie Thompson

Photo by Allie Thompson

Organization, Patriots for Choice,

What is one adjective you would use to describe your organization?

Patriots for Choice can be best described as determined. To provide a bit of background, our organization works to advocate for reproductive health and justice on campus and strongly supports intersectional feminism and LGBTQ+ rights. We are determined to be a source of support for George Mason’s students through education on reproductive issues, and by working to improve the quality of life for students.

What is your mission/purpose as an organization?

One of our main goals is to create concrete change on GMU’s campus. We created the “Take a Tampon, Leave a Tampon” initiative where we provided a supply of pads and tampons in the JC women’s bathrooms and students take whatever they need and refill the supply in return. This provides sanitary products at no cost for students and supports students with social anxiety who may feel uncomfortable asking other students for them. It also fosters a sense of community and support among students. We are planning to expand to a gender-neutral bathroom in SUB I as well in order to be more gender inclusive. We are also working on bringing a Plan B vending machine to GMU’s campus in order to provide more privacy in making reproductive decisions and to increase the hours in which emergency contraception is available to students.

What is your organization’s most memorable moment?

It’s really difficult for us to pick one memorable moment. From the moment we decided to restart this organization, when we set up an amazing exec board, when we maintained regular members of our organization: every one of these moments was memorable. However, I would have to say one of our major events last semester was one of our most memorable moments. We had an Abortion Access Q&A Panel where we discussed the different barriers to access and included the intersection of race and socioeconomic status. We invited representatives from two major reproductive health and justice organizations and a local abortion clinic.  Essentially, it was so lovely because students who attended were able to learn a lot from experts in this field and were able to freely ask questions and we felt happy that we were able to support students in this way.

Photo by Allie Thompson

Photo by Allie Thompson

Professor, Patricia Miller

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Arlington, Virginia and I first started my love of music in my church. So I sang in the children’s choir and I played the piano and that’s kind of where it all started. I’ve never not known music being in my life. That was the first kind of organized place where I would sing with other people who love to sing as well. But it’s kind of been my life’s path.

How did it grow from there?

When I got to high school, my choral teacher heard me sing and she gave me voice lessons after school. She told me I had something special – I didn’t know [that] at the time because I had only been in the church. But then we started working on things together and next thing I knew, I was singing all these wonderful songs – and I loved all the poetry in the songs. She opened a world for me. So, it was a teacher who really helped me find my voice. And that’s been consistent through my life and career – from high school to Boston University and another teacher and coach really helped groom me. From there to New England conservatory, it just got more and more intense and more exciting for me. I was able to meet amazing people in Boston and, as my voice grew, lots of amazing things started happening. I won the Metropolitan Opera Competition and then I had an opportunity to compete for the Fulbright and I won that too – and I had to decide whether I was going to go to New York or was I going to take the Fulbright and go to Europe? I took the Fulbright and went to Europe because I wanted to learn more about the culture, about the language, and I knew then, at that point that I really wanted opera as my focus. And it really made sense to me to go from graduate school to further studying on the fullbright to Rome.

What happened from there?

I was in Rome the whole time. In fact, I got an extension on my Fulbright, so I was there for two years instead of one. At the of two years, my maestro suggested I audition in Vienna, Austria, so I did and the manager liked my voice – sent me to different opera houses and I was hired in Switzerland. And that was my first house job. And from there my career just grew.

So you’ve been traveling around the world for a long time – Where have you been?

I started in Italy. In terms of being outside the United States. I started in Italy on the Fulbright. From there, I went to Austria and then to Switzerland and sang a lot there. And I’ve really sung all over Europe, all the major countries and opera houses there. Also in Canada, I made my debut in San Francisco opera. From there I was hired to New York city opera. I’ve sung in Houston, in Florida, and in many many places.

My signature role as an opera singer was Carmen. I did my debut there in Bogota, Colombia. My managers in New York sent me to Bogota to try it out – it went really successfully – from there. I went to New York and from New York I went to Lyon, France, and Australia. I’ve had a really amazing life and career. It’s been so special and I’m so grateful for it. And it was really this teacher that opened up this world for me. It’s been a succession of incredible teachers and coaches, conductors directors, that have kind of supported me along the way. Then after about 20 years of traveling around the world and singing, I fell in love with teaching.

That must have been so great getting to teach since your life has been so shaped by teachers.

If there were a theme [in my life] – it would be I’m grateful to be giving back what someone has given to me.  It was early on that someone took an interest in me, and I didn’t even realize it. And now, I hear voices and I help people discover and develop their voices – just like someone did for me 30 years ago.

What do you want students to take away from your teaching?

I want them to take away a love for the art, a love for the singing, and a love for poetry, and for the beauty of the voice and how it can convey so many emotions and touch so many people. I would want them to feel secure and joyful in their own talent and not want something someone else has, but to discover the beauty within themselves and to share that with people – I can’t think of anything better.

What do you teach at Mason?

I teach what we call applied voice. So I have voice lessons with students who are majoring in music with a vocal performance focus or degree. So bachelor of music students and master of music students. We have a doctoral program so we have two doctoral students too. I also teach a vocal literature class and a performance seminar for both graduates and undergraduate. I am also the area coordinator and director of vocal studies for the School of Music – I oversee our entire program and area, making any curriculum changes or program changes, and bringing new faculty in – all of that administration things that go along with being a director of an area. Also connected with all of our students in the area. We have about 65 or 70 students taking voice every week. We have a wonderful faculty of voice professors who teach here.

It’s quite a driving program and we’re growing like crazy. We have new connections now. This is new – we have Virginia opera on campus this year. We have new collaborations with Washington National Opera and Kennedy Center. Some of my graduates are now singing with the Washington National Opera. There’s this kind of collaboration that helps to build this program. Students can see professionals doing it. We’re invited to dress rehearsals of the Washington Opera – so I’ll take ten students over, or not just me and my colleagues. And we sit and watch and critique. So it takes the outside world in.

You’ve really helped grow the department – was it like that when you were here?

I came here in 1991, and it was nothing like what it is now.

What made you want to come to Mason?

At the time, I was invited to come to Mason to do a master class – I was at that point singing with Berlin Opera. I came home to Arlington because my dad became ill and I wanted to look after and see about him. We were between productions in Germany and while I was here, someone knew I was here and invited me to do a Master class at Mason. I did and it just kind of developed from there. I was always fascinated with the potential in Mason. It was not like this 20 years ago, but it has grown so fast. And I think it’s because of many factors – the kind of leadership we’ve had at this university, but also the community, the support, the growth, the state.

What is the most rewarding thing about being a teacher?

I think the most rewarding thing is when you see the light go on in a student. What I mean by that is when you help a student discover a talent they have and help them develop it. I can’t think of anything better. And then to see them take that talent and share it. Whether they become a high school teacher or the stage of an opera house. To see them find themselves in their art and in their voices and share it. That’s a huge lift for me and I’ve had that privilege with several of my students.