She realized that biochemistry didn't make her heart sing—but acting did. She was Miss Black USA 2016, a celebrity advocate for the Heart Truth campaign, and a goodwill ambassador to the Republic of Sierra Leone, Cuba and Jamaica.

Member of Adelphi University’s 10 Under 10.

Miss Black USA 2016 and On-Air Host and TV personality for Access TV Network

“People generally seem like they have it together more than they actually do. This is a helpful reminder for new graduates who may start to feel the impostor syndrome as they enter the workforce. Many people question their adequacy internally, it’s okay. Just put up a confident front, work hard and learn quickly.”

“I chose Adelphi because Adelphi chose me. Twice!” said Tonille Simone Watkis, B.F.A. ’14. “I was accepted as a senior in high school to enter the General Studies Program [at Adelphi], but I ended up going to another college where I majored in biochemistry for a year because I thought I wanted to be a doctor. Clearly, Adelphi knew I was a bit lost and offered me the chance to take more time to figure out what I really wanted to do. But, at the time, I didn’t take the offer. I finally woke up and realized that biochemistry didn’t make my heart sing but acting did. I decided to withdraw and transfer to [Adelphi’s] B.F.A. Theatre program.”

Fate also had a hand in bringing Watkis to the University. “Adelphi happened to mail a flyer to me advertising the Adelphi Performing Arts Center and I started to research the Theatre Department and learned about the B.F.A. Theatre program that offered great professional training in a liberal arts environment. It was exactly what I needed and it came right to my doorstep. This was in July, so I didn’t think I would be accepted for an audition for the coming school year, but I did and was accepted for admission into the program on the spot! AU welcomed me with open arms and offered me what I needed in both stages of my college career. Now, three years later, I’m so happy we chose each other!”

Watkis credits many of the professors in the Theatre Department for helping in her development. However, she said one professor in particular was, and continues to be, a mentor to her: Maggie Lally. “From my very first class that I took with her as a freshman, to working with her while creating my capstone, and up until now she has been an amazing supporter and has encouraged my growth as an artist and as a person.”

After graduating from Adelphi, Watkis had many day jobs and found creative ways to put her performance skills to good use. She took on roles as a ballroom dance instructor, studio manager, and drama teacher. Then, her life changed dramatically when she was crowned Miss Black USA 2016. The Miss Black USA Organization is a non-profit corporation that empowers women and celebrates their unique talents, traits and beauty.  “As Miss Black USA 2016-2017, I enjoyed an amazing year long reign. I was awarded a $6,000 scholarship, the opportunity to travel to Africa to model in Ghana Fashion Week, and shoot a spread for the ORS Olive Oil Hair Care #Nostereotypes campaign in Sophisticates Black Hair Magazine, sold nationwide. I made a host of television and radio appearances, one of the most notable being the Steve Harvey Morning Show. In addition to being a celebrity advocate for the Heart Truth Campaign which raises awareness about heart disease, the leading cause of death in women in the United States, I also currently serve as a Goodwill Ambassador to the Republic of Sierra Leone, Cuba, and my parents’ homeland, Jamaica, which were honors appointed to me during my reign that I now continue to uphold,” Watkis said. As a result of her work as Miss Black USA 2016, she also recently began a career as an on-air host and TV personality on Access TV Network.

Watkis said her greatest accomplishment thus far has been seeing her one-woman play, No Boxes Allowed, which she wrote as her capstone project at Adelphi, debut at the SoHo Playhouse in 2014.

“Adelphi changed my life because it was the place where I was finally allowed to dream and nurture my passions,” said Watkis. “Thanks to well-designed programs, great faculty, and a great campus community, I thrived. My time at Adelphi has become the foundation on which my professional life has been built and the amazing network of alumni have helped keep me connected.”

» Nominate a member of the alumni community for 10 Under 10

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Todd Wilson
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