Growing up in the small rural town of Vernon, I was mesmerized at the young age of five by the movie musicals Mamma Mia and Phantom of the Opera. I participated in as many musicals and plays as I could: my first performance ever was Into the Woods at Glen Meadow Middle School, and my favorites were Noises Off at Vernon Township High School and A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the North Star Theater Company.
After falling in love with the magic of those performances, which I still find magical today, I decided to go to college in Los Angeles and act in TV and film. Acting was my everything, and that childhood dream never faded.
In 2016, tragedy struck my family. My stepdad, Joseph Duffy, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, or ALS, which caused him to lose the ability to speak, eat, and walk. At the time of his diagnosis, he was given only ten months to live.
My happy, normal life was forever changed. My mom, Jennifer, dedicated her life to being my stepdad’s 24/7 caretaker, and our home quickly filled up with medical equipment. We never knew what each day had in store, so we put our faith in God and His plan to help us get through this tremendously difficult experience.
My stepdad beat all the odds and lived for five more years with his incurable disease. He died on February 1.
Stay or go?
I had worked hard auditioning for Los Angeles colleges’ theater programs, but after my stepdad’s death, I wasn’t sure if I should still move to California after graduation from Sussex County Community College. He would often type on his eye-gaze computer and tell me to not let his ALS stop me from following my dreams. One month after his passing I got accepted to Loyola Marymount University. I knew this was what I was meant to do.
My mom and I decided to drive from coast to coast for three thousand miles as an exciting way to start a new life. Being a full-time caretaker meant that my mom couldn’t always be there for my big milestones, like taking me prom dress shopping or to my driver’s test, so this five-day road trip was a special adventure for us and a way to strengthen our bond in an unforgettable way. Together we experienced the country, which mostly consisted of road work and a lot of corn, but also beautiful mountains, lakes, and rivers.
Moving across the country from a small town to a big city to pursue a lifelong dream is a bold step that not many people are able to make, but I was determined to make it all the way to the West Coast. The combination of a new school and environment along with the pandemic takes a lot of strength and perseverance, but after everything I’d been through, this should be a piece of cake.
Now as I try to navigate this new, exciting, yet scary chapter in Los Angeles, I hope to honor my stepdad and his memory and the town of Vernon as well as find success in the entertainment industry as an actress. Before my stepdad passed, my mom told him to take care of me while I’m out on my own in L.A. I know that’s exactly what he’s doing up in heaven.
My story is nowhere near complete, but I hope it inspires others to take a big leap of faith to follow their lifelong dreams too.