Emily Nelson
Clarity Guerra

Demi Kendros laughs remembering their first day of classes at the University of Iowa.

“It reminded me of my first day of kindergarten,” says Kendros, who is from Fairfield, Iowa. “I got my backpack, and I got an outfit, and I got a box lunch, and I was so excited. I went to the English-Philosophy Building and went down those haunted hallways to the basement to my freshman rhetoric class. I took out my pencil and my notebook and looked around, and realized I was older than everybody in the classroom, including the teaching assistant.”

Kendros was 22. And as they prepare to graduate with a BA in theatre arts, Kendros does not regret waiting to go to college.

“It took a few years of growing and going through some growing pains,” Kendros says. “At 22, I had a better understanding of how the world worked. I had more confidence and more self-assurance and more maturity.

“And also, people thought I was a grad student, so that was kind of cool.”

Demi Kendros

Hometown: Fairfield, Iowa

Degree: BA in theatre arts

What’s next: Live with family and figure out what’s next.

What has surprised you about the University of Iowa?

I was surprised by how big this place is. I thought, “What? Like, thousands of students? Oh, it’s fine.” I felt so insignificant in the most lovely way. Anonymity was a kind of nice, fun, new experience, especially being from a small town. I was surprised by how many resources we had. I was very pleased to see that we have a career center and that we have so many different clubs, and that there are so many niche spaces for any type of student to find community in.

The COVID-19 pandemic was part of your academic journey. What helped you succeed during such uncertain times?

I remember that first Zoom into my playwriting class. We were all at home and we didn’t do anything. We just talked. And all my classes turned into group therapy, and all our grades went pass-fail. Everyone collectively realized the moment of crisis that we were in, and we all just agreed to hold each other’s hands and breathe. And while it was so horrifying and scary, it was also this kind of paradigm shift in the way I’d been feeling as a student: I’m so tired; I’m under so much pressure; I’m doing my absolute best; I feel like I’m just a grade. But then teachers acknowledged it, and I saw my teachers as human beings, too.

And then the challenge that came in was whether to drop out. But I had already made the commitment to pursue a bachelor’s degree and pursue a traditional education. But I think every single day for the next semester, I had to actively make the choice to participate in this.

I kept going because I was making art, and I was making art with people I cared about. And I had faith that we would get through it.

How did you and your colleagues adjust in the face of COVID?

Let me tell you a story. We have incredible facilities in the theatre arts department. We have a lab dedicated to scene design where you have these giant drafting tables and there’s wood and there’s buzz saws, and there’s Styrofoam and there’s props. And in the Scene Design I class, you start by making scaled-down models of stages. And that involves a lot of measuring and cutting, and a lot of Styrofoam and paint, and a lot of toothpicks for some reason, and a lot of glue.

Well, it just so happened that I had that class in fall of 2021. And Eric Stone (associate professor, director of graduate studies, and head of the design program) worked so tirelessly and so ingeniously to create the design lab experience for everyone’s individual space. He did a drop-off of this giant box filled with all the tools we needed for the whole semester. It was like HelloFresh prepackaged ingredients, but with set design stuff. It just showed so much care and rising to the challenge, which is what theater people do every day.

Who were your most important mentors at Iowa?

Major shoutout to Megan Gogerty (associate professor of instruction). She has a class called Standup Comedy Practicum, which is a place to learn how to be a stand-up comedian. And your homework is to go to an open mic every week and develop an act. By the end of that class I thought, “Oh, I’m a stand-up comedian. I’m going to do this for the rest of my life.” This is a lifelong passion that doesn’t have to be a career. I’m just going to do it forever.

Also, shoutout to Bryon Winn, who’s our director of theater. He taught me so much about collaboration and about the ease of which it can be facilitated. Not everything has to be hard. He always said, “You find the people you like to work with, and you keep working with them forever.” And that’s just valuable advice.

And a shoutout to Clarity Guerra (video manager for the UI Office of Strategic Communication), my boss for the past four years. She’s been an incredible, incredible mentor. She’s taught me so much about marketing and communicating and how to work in an office and how to merge both creativity and productivity. She has always been so willing and excited to teach and to guide. I got to make videos and learn and have such great coworkers. I’m just so grateful.

What will you take away from your time at Iowa?

I came here with the intention of becoming a better writer. And I did. I’ve become a multidisciplined writer. I’ve become a better collaborator. I’ve become a better listener.

Also, from COVID and everything that happened, I was stripped down to the essentials of leaning on my people and learning how to allow people to help me. And as I graduate and as I move forward, what matters in my life right now is not career, not prestige, not even a ladder or a path. What matters is being with people I love, carrying on with the deep friendships that I’ve made here, carrying on with the mentorships I’ve made here, and moving to a place where I am surrounded by that and forging within that new projects, new art, new job opportunities. And as long as I have my home base together, everything else will fall into place.