Jeraya Kelly is, above all else, an explorer. Since a young age, her life and work has been defined by a restlessness of the best kind — an adventurous spirit yearning to try new things, never intimidated by the unfamiliar.
Kelly’s childhood in Brooklyn thrust her into a busy, diverse world bustling with people, communities and ideas of all kinds. This lively environment brought out the natural extrovert within her, allowing her to be as “colorful and inquisitive” as she pleased—which, according to Kelly, is a nice way of saying she talked too much.
Throughout high school, she dabbled in a variety of activities and clubs, from drama to art to running track. Kelly also describes herself as having been a “huge nerd,” dedicating much of her time to reading books and watching movies and TV. Some of the creative works that have shaped her the most include “Percy Jackson,” “Chronicles of Narnia,” and “Harry Potter,” as well as “Mulan,” which she appreciated the cultural representation and significance of. However, there is one TV series that stands out above all else.
“I absolutely loved ‘Glee.’ I actually thought I would be on it someday,” Kelly said. “But sadly it ended when I was a junior. Looking back on it, it taught me so much about life and what to prioritize. It inspired me to open myself up to new experiences and find things that make me happy.”
When it was time to choose the college where she would start the next chapter of her life, Kelly wanted a change of scenery, even briefly considering attending film school in Mexico. In the end, she decided SUNY Plattsburgh presented the perfect environment — a different environment than Brooklyn, but close enough to be able to visit home every now and then.
Kelly began as a double major in Spanish and English language arts. She later switched to education with a concentration in English, as well as a minor in Spanish and theater. She currently describes herself as a junior-senior hybrid, having earned senior year credit early, and is expecting to graduate in May 2022.
“One aspect I really value in education is having teachers that have hands-on experience with what they’re teaching, and that’s exactly what I got at Plattsburgh,” Kelly said. “I had teachers in English and cultural classes that have published their own works or are editors of magazines. That kind of experience is really important to me.”
Fall 2020 saw Kelly successfully run for the Student Association, where she is currently serving as the senator of academics. Though her SA experience has been unconventional, taking place entirely during the pandemic, she reflects on it as having been a fresh, enlightening activity that has opened her eyes to how important decisions are made behind the scenes.
“I’ve learned so much about the way the college operates as a whole,” Kelly said. “Being a senator has really given me a brand new perspective. I have a much deeper understanding of student leadership and what it can accomplish.”
Kelly’s engagement outside the classroom is certainly not limited to the SA. True to her habit of constantly exploring new things, she has also been a part of the Council for Exceptional Children, community government, the Anthropology Club, the college theatre department, the staff of a local bookstore, among others. Theatre especially has been among her favorite activities to take part in from a young age.
“New York City is known for being loud and dramatic, and theatre is a big part of who we are. I’ve always been very outspoken, and I love to talk with my hands,” Kelly said, demonstrating. “I’ve never thought of myself as an actress or a set designer specifically, but I love helping out with various aspects of plays. There are so many different facets of theatre — choreography, costume design, lighting, sound, acting, writing, — so much.”
Kelly describes a number of social justice issues that are especially meaningful to her and have prompted her to take action about. Among these issues are fighting climate change and environmental degradation. In addition, Kelly prioritizes food security and animal well-being; she has been a vegetarian for the last two years and takes steps to ensure she gets her products from cruelty-free businesses. She is also acutely aware that it is a privilege to be able to adjust her diet, and that this kind of personal activism is often a luxury for many people depending on their socio-economic background.
Discrimination and prejudice of all kinds is also a major issue for Kelly.
“I think it’s a responsibility to fight against discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or any other feature,” Kelly said. “Whether it be BLM, or the movement to support the LGBTQ+ community, or any other movement to resist discrimination, I think efforts like that are incredibly important.”
Kelly also noted that the prejudice she actively fights against isn’t limited to prejudice against people in particular—it can also be prejudice against new ideas, activities and lifestyles. She pointed out that such prejudice can truly limit one’s experience with the world around them, shutting them away from new things that may change their lives for the better.
As for the future, Kelly has a wide variety of plans.
“I’d love to do voluntary work, especially in teaching language,” Kelly said. “Maybe I’ll spend time learning and teaching drama, sewing, guitar or the clarinet. I’d also like to live abroad, maybe in South America. I might do medical school. Or law school.”
Kelly has no intentions of stepping away from the mission that has defined her — constantly learning, growing and exploring. There is no telling what her future has in store, and that’s exactly how she likes it.