Growing Up with Young Chautauqua

By Kelbey Hilliard

I was never a kid who was afraid of the spotlight. My whole life, I’ve always been happy to take center stage and put on a show. I was shy meeting new people, and still can be, but always dreamed of performing one day in a huge, bright theatre. So, when my parents told me four years ago about a program where I could perform history with other kids, I was all for it. Nevada Humanities Great Basin Young Chautauqua, however, isn’t just for kids like me who love to have attention on them. It’s for the kids who are shy. The kids who love books, music, or writing. The kids who love history. The kids who hate it. The kids who are quirky. It’s for all the students who want to be understood, to find their voice. Though it may seem crazy, sometimes speaking through another person’s life can help you find what defines your own story.  


Young Chautauqua, at its most basic, is performing the life of a dead historical figure. For all of us who do it, however, it’s a lot bigger than that. Some of the most valuable things that I’ve learned, I learned from Chautauqua. The number one aspect of this program has always been individuality. We are free to be ourselves, and we are, every day. Chautauqua has also helped me to be successful in school. Learning about stage presence, voice projection, and body language help with speaking in front of classes, the research process helps with learning how to access credible sources, and writing the monologues helps with essay writing. Of course, we learn about a ton of unique perspectives of history, too.

From my time with Young Chautauqua, I’ve also learned a lot of patience and confidence. From the wonderful support of the adult directors and performers who help us, I’ve learned how to conquer the stage when I’m performing, as well as respect and support all the other performers who get up on it, too. I’ve met some of my best friends in the Chautauqua program, and we are all so wonderfully unique, yet connected with each other. We support each other, we laugh with each other, and we need each other.

My Chautauqua experience will always be a part of who I am. That little girl in the spotlight, four years ago, doesn’t know just how amazing this program will be for her. But I do. I will never forget the memories I have of from Chautauqua. If I had only learned just one thing from my experience, it would be this: If you can get up on a stage and become someone amazing, like a pilot, an author, a scientist, or a doctor, someone who achieved their goals and chased their dreams, then nothing and no one can stop you from making your own mark on history.


Kelbey Hilliard is a 14-year-old who will be starting as a freshman at McQueen High School in Reno, Nevada. This is her fifth season with the Great Basin Young Chautauqua program. You can watch Kelbey and the other young scholars at the 2019 Great Basin Young Chautauqua Showcase on Friday, May 31, 6 – 9 pm and Saturday, June 1, 6 – 9 pm at the Restless Artists’ Theatre on both evenings.

Images/Jessi LeMay