“Keep your head high”: Converse Alumna Shares Story of Loss and Healing
By Ella B. Webster
Converse alumna Gia Monteleone ’11 is taking the music scene by storm as tour manager at one of the most respected music venues in the nation, Preservation Music Hall in New Orleans. As a year-round traveler with the hall’s primary ensemble, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, she lists “Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Japan, as well as cities and destination venues across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico” as just a few of the places she has visited. In her spare time, Monteleone is also a member of a New Orleans Caribbean-inspired rock and roll band and a New Orleans Mardi Gras troupe.
But looking back, Monteleone says her future didn’t always seem so bright. During her senior year of high school in New Orleans, Monteleone’s family suffered the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. In the tumultuous aftermath, she admits, “I sort of lost my way… I could no longer imagine beyond each day, because I saw how unpredictable life really is.” At not quite 20 years old, Monteleone began the difficult process of healing from a trauma.
Knowing that she had been in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, Converse offered to waive her application fee.
After briefly relocating, Monteleone’s family was able to return home. She was able to complete her senior year at her own high school, but she continued to struggle with the prospect of her future. One day, she received an email from Converse inviting her to apply. Although she was especially interested in Converse’s music program, she was hesitant at first. “I went to an all-girls Catholic school in New Orleans,” she says. “After having been around all females for three years already, I was admittedly not very interested in spending another four years with all women.”
However, it was a small act of kindness on Converse’s part that led to Monteleone’s change of heart. Knowing that she had been in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, Converse offered to waive her application fee. Still slightly uncertain, Monteleone applied. She was accepted shortly thereafter. In hindsight, she says, applying was “honestly the best decision I could have made.”
Monteleone during a performance with her band, Marina Orchestra
Monteleone’s mind wasn’t fully made up, though, until she visited campus. It was on that tour, she says, that she finally “became excited for the possibilities of future.” She took a year before committing and used that time to adjust to her post-Katrina life. Then she made the move away from her friends and family in New Orleans and came to Converse.
Though she was nervous to be so far away from home, Monteleone soon came into her own. Summing up her four years at Converse as “empowering,” Monteleone says, “Immersing myself in a new environment forced me to come out of my shell and pushed me into becoming the independent woman I am today.” Moving past her shyness, she found a steadfast group of friends and made memories she continues to value. One of her fondest is of Jan Term 2009, when she and her friends immersed themselves in the Film Music and Beatles courses by day and watched movies together in the residence halls by night. It was, she says, “a beautiful month of good movies, great music, and even greater friendships.”
“Immersing myself in a new environment forced me to come out of my shell and pushed me into becoming the independent woman I am today.”
Shortly after graduating with her music degree, she landed a job at Preservation Hall. She worked for the next seven years to earn her current position as tour manager for their primary band. “Preservation Hall has not only been an amazing educational experience for me, but they have nurtured my desires to travel, which has ended up being a true love of mine,” she said.
Monteleone is appreciative of the caring manner in which Converse admissions reached out to her in a time of need. Without them, she says, “who knows where I’d be now!” Reflecting on the time in her life following Katrina, Monteleone offers this encouragement and advice to anyone who may be struggling: “Don’t let the tough times keep your spirit down. The thing I like to remember is that everybody goes through hard times. No one is immune to it. What matters is how you handle it. Don’t let any tragedy or difficult circumstance dictate who you are. Keep your head high. Stay positive and motivated, and good opportunities will come your way.”