Alumna Ellen "Ell" Connally

Read about Ell's career path after leaving Pitt in 2015

Information about who you are and what you are doing now – how did you get there?
After moving to Pittsburgh in August 2011 for university, I graduated from Pitt in April 2015 with degrees in theatre arts and French language and literature (and no idea of what I wanted to do with my life), then worked for three years before starting law school.

Though I didn’t realize it at the time – or for some years afterward – my journey to law school began as a theatre student. I took Theatre for Children and Devised Theatre courses my sophomore year which started steering my course toward an interest in working with marginalized populations. I participated in two AmeriCorps programs following undergrad, working with young kids both as a camp supervisor and a post-secondary education advocate, which led me to a position in the field of truancy intervention. Seeing the barriers faced and inequities experienced by my truancy clients, I decided to pursue another degree; after applying to both social work and law programs, I accepted a full tuition scholarship to Duquesne University School of Law starting Fall 2018.

I just graduated with my Juris Doctor, and after taking (and passing *fingers crossed*) the bar exam, I will be starting my legal career as an associate attorney at Ruder Law, a small law firm here in Pittsburgh that specializes in special education and disability rights.
Did your theatrical background help you in your career path?
I’ve done well in my trial advocacy work and was inducted into the advocacy honors society, and I definitely attribute my theatre background to my burgeoning courtroom and advocacy skills!
What was the best part of being involved theatre arts?
I met a wide variety of humans while involved in theatre arts. That array of personalities and backgrounds, coupled with discussing plots and developing characters, lay a really unique foundation of inquisitiveness and empathy. I met one of my closest friends through the theatre department (well, technically we had a French final together, then recognized each other at auditions the following semester), and I have cultivated a network of creative and daring individuals whose successes are celebrated as an extended community. From former professors to former roommates, I have a handful of individuals on whom I know I can rely for support, regardless of whether that support is art-related or otherwise.
What theatrical knowledge or experience helped you grow in your career path?
Volunteer-teaching an after-school drama class to elementary kids in Braddock… working with Cynthia Croot on the beginnings of a piece about a French criminal defense attorney… becoming emotionally and intellectually intrigued by a play set in a women’s prison… these experiences as a theatre arts student shed some insight on my past three years as a law student. These experiences compelled me to get into service-oriented jobs which led me to law school which presented the opportunity to intern with the Office of the Public Defender through which I met my current employer with whom I’ll have my first attorney position. Recalling the experiences I had with the criminal justice system from a theatrical and intellectual vantage point is incredibly fascinating since my legal interest now lay in educational equity and criminal justice (especially juvenile justice) reform.
Any advice to current and incoming students about career paths after school?
Find your “why,” and let that guide and anchor you. The “why” behind your involvement in theatre now may be the same “why” behind your future career in legislation; the “why” behind your current focus on acting may carry over to the “why” behind your future focus on directing.  You’re allowed to change your mind and shift your specialties, and the skills you develop along the way are more transferable than you may realize. Sometimes it takes a few tries to find your niche, to find what fulfills and drives you toward a higher purpose – take solace in that this is normal and you are in good and multitudinous company.
What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
If I could talk to my 18-year-old and 22-year-old selves, this is what I’d tell them: Don’t let people’s expectations of who you are and who you should be dictate the decisions you make about your life.

Succumbing to fear of change is the most limiting and growth-stunting thing you can do to yourself. Seize the seed of an idea inside you and nurture it, even if it’s confusing, even if other people question why you’d want to detour. College is not the final stage of metamorphosis. Be daring. Aspire to the authentic.

(Oh, and taking care of your body is way, way cooler than trashing it. Stay hydrated, friends)