One year ago, Kendall College student Julietta Wright walked the campus of one of the nation’s largest and oldest schools, the University of Michigan, with her sights set on a career in a laboratory. Fast forward to today and Julietta, this year’s Presidential Scholarship recipient, is eyeing a career in her lifelong passion… baking.
Kendall College – What does it mean to you to be a Presidential Scholarship winner and talk about how that all came about?
Julietta Wright – Being the Presidential Scholarship winner quite honestly means everything to me. Coming to Kendall was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make and I can’t truly put into words how much this scholarship does for me. For a long time I had been on this academic path to becoming a scientist or a doctor, and that’s what I thought everyone expected of me. I had graduated fourth in my class and I had always done well in my science courses, so last year, when I started even considering the idea of culinary school I felt completely overwhelmed because I was so worried about what would people think, and that I would never be successful. After many hours of research however and many more hours of talking about it out loud with my best friends, I found myself having to answer one simple question: what will make me happy? And the answer is pursuing my love of baking. Had I stayed at UM, I would have spent four years paying thousands of dollars for a degree I would never use, and I would hate my job for the rest of my life. I was worried what my parents would say or if I’d make enough money to support myself one day, but in the end I know now that it’s my life, and I am going to be the one living it, so I have to do something I love. Unfortunately, the news didn’t go over as well with my parents, and so I took on the responsibility of paying for Kendall myself. It was a lot to take on at only 19 years old. I didn’t really understand how loans worked or how I’d ever be able to afford any of it, but with some help, I started applying for scholarships and anything that would help reduce the amount I’d have to borrow. Fortunately, I was able to get a job as an RA, but I was really counting on scholarships to help me. To make a very long and complicated story short, I had applied for two main scholarships, the Presidential being one of them. However, nearing the start of school I found out that for some reason my application hadn’t been considered for the Presidential interviews and the housing director Jeanette asked that they please try and get me in the very next day. Thankfully President (Emily Williams) Knight was able to interview me, and I have to say it didn’t feel like an interview at all. She was so kind and understanding about everything; she simply asked me my story and I told her how I had come to be at Kendall, and the rest happened so quickly. She called me later that day to congratulate me as the winner of the scholarship. It was truly an incredible moment because I felt so blessed and thankful to have won. It was a weight off my shoulders to not have the financial burden of student debt. I feel so much gratitude to the president and everyone at the college for listening and helping me, not only financially but to pursue my dreams.
KC – Last year you attended the University of Michigan. Talk about what it’s like going from one of the country’s biggest schools to a smaller community such as Kendall College?
JW – First, I want to start by saying that I love U of M. It’s a great school, but I think coming to Kendall has been a much-needed transition for me. I personally like the style of being in a small class setting where there is a lot of individual attention between the instructors and students, not to mention I love being able to eat breakfast with my chefs and listen to them talk about things outside of exactly what’s on the syllabus. Learning feels a lot more involved and more importantly I love what I’m learning. I never felt that at Michigan, but here at Kendall I don’t mind the early classes or the somewhat longer commute everyday because I genuinely am excited to go to class and learn everything I can about the industry, baking, and food in general.
KC – When did your interest in baking and pastry begin?
JW – I don’t know if I have a specific moment, but I do know I started helping in the kitchen from a very young age and so I have had an interest in food for pretty much my entire life. When I was little, my favorite toy was my Easy Bake Oven. I used to love mixing up the little packets and watching them “bake” under that tiny little light bulb until I could pull them out and proudly serve my family. When I was 8 or so, I would pretend I was the host of my own cooking show, and in fifth grade I dressed up as a pastry chef for career day. I’ve always said I want to own my own bakery one day. It has been a life-long dream of mine. However, as I got older, I never really considered it as a “real job” and so when I decided to go to Michigan, my major was biochemistry with an emphasis on food science. I thought that by being a scientist I could combine my love of cooking with my love of science, but after lots of research, I realized that sitting in a lab working with chemicals that imitated the taste of food wasn’t something I was going to be happy doing the rest of my life. It was at that point that I decided to follow my love and passion for baking and go to culinary school, and I have to say its one of the best decisions I have ever made.
KC – What are you most looking forward to at Kendall College?
JW – I would say I am most excited to just learn everything and anything I can about baking and pastry. The reason I love going to class so much isn’t just that I am cooking, but rather that I am learning about ingredient functions and why things act the way they do. Baking is very scientific and I like finally being able to understand exactly what is going on when I am cooking. I feel like a better baker even after a few weeks because I feel like I have such a closer relationship to my products now that I know what affects them, or what makes them cakey or chewy or crunchy. I am also excited about getting to meet a variety of chefs and instructors that have experience in the industry because they can pass down a lot of wisdom and advice on how to be successful. Each one can offer a different perspective and experience that really helps me develop into my professional career, and I think that aspect of culinary school is just as valuable as knowing how to bake.
KC – It might be a bit early for this question… but where do you hope your career takes you after you leave Kendall College?
JW – No, never too early! We all have to have dreams don’t we? As I mentioned, my life long dreams is to own a bakery and ice cream shop. However, since coming to Kendall though, I have found that I am really interested in fine dining. There is so much creativity and expression in food today that I am really interested in pursuing a career as a head pastry chef. I really want to travel and meet new people just to learn even more about food. I’ll have to see where that takes me, but I still want my bakery one day. I want to open a place that brings joy to people in so many ways; I want it to be a place where people come to laugh and be with the ones they love, and be able to share good times and memories over sweet treats. I truly believe that when you bake for someone, you are putting part of yourself into what you make, and so I really want to take the experiences I have had and will have and share those experiences with other people through my baking. I want to make people smile, to feel like a kid or to feel at home, and to just be happy in my shop or wherever they take the things I make.