Dr. Marrero on Mentorship and Fighting Adversity

President Marrero discusses past trials, and how a key mentor helped overcome them



Georgia Southern President Kyle Marrero

President of Georgia Southern University Dr. Kyle Marrero sat down with The George-Anne Inkwell and the George-Anne for his monthly interview with the two publications on Friday, Nov. 5. This interview covered a variety of topics, including the recent Celebrate Together event and the hiring of football head coach Clay Helton.
During the interview, Dr. Marrero had an opportunity to open up more about his background, and elaborated on the details of his transition from musician to administrator.
One revelatory detail that was mentioned was his change in career came about at least in part due to forces out of his control, as long-undiagnosed acid reflux led to unforeseen damage to his vocal cords and difficulty singing prolifically.
“I was waking up in the mornings, every morning in the hotel room, going ‘Man, I’m hoarse! What’s going on? Am I getting sick?’ I wasn’t getting sick. What I didn’t know was that I had acid reflux.”
Despite the newfound ailment, Dr. Marrero was not by any means ready to give up on his dream of being an opera singer.
“By the end of that tour I was getting some functional issues, and as an athlete, because that’s what you are really as a professional singer, I wasn’t able to do everything I wanted to do, so I finally saw a doctor and was diagnosed. In fact, it was so bad that I had scar tissue on my arytenoid cartilages.”
Dr. Marrero’s initial response to this new challenge was to try and defeat it head-on, not allowing this unfortunate situation to turn him away from his artform.
“I worked really hard over the next few years, really trying to get back to where it was, but there was a realization that I was an athlete that had an injury, and that was always going to keep it from being what others thought it was when there was potential, et cetera. So I had to make choices.”
Furthering the sports analogy, President Marrero likened the moment to a crossroads that thousands of athletes have had to face and still face today.
“I don’t know if I could liken it to a collegiate athlete who has that realization, of if they’re going to play professionally or not. And then what’s the identity after that? Because your entire self-worth is wrapped up in how two pieces of meat come together in your throat, or how fast you can run.”
President Marrero cited his vocal teacher from college as one of the key mentors who helped him in that moment.
“I was really fortunate to have an incredible mentor in my life, George Shirley, who was my voice teacher at University of Michigan, one of the first African Americans to sing at the Met (Metropolitan Opera), and he really helped me go, ‘Well, what are your values? What do you believe in? Why did you choose to be a singer in the first place?’”
The ability to impact people and build communities around a craft that he and like-minded individuals are passionate about were key aspects of his interest in the opera. He wanted to create something that could help people forget about their problems in life.
“And he (Shirley) said ‘Well, that translates into anything you want to do…’ He really helped me refocus and understand that I had value outside of physical ability.”
By focusing on his reason for becoming an artist in the first place, Dr. Marrero took what could be perceived as an end of a career and turned it into the birth of a new one. Even the student most confident of their ability to succeed in their chosen field should take heed, and understand that despite our best efforts, things fall apart. It’s about what you do with the pieces.
“I think we all hit that at some point, whether it’s what you majored in, suddenly it’s ‘Well I don’t wanna do that… well what am I going to do?’ I think he (Shirley) really helped me understand what I wanted my legacy to be, and how I could use my intelligence, work ethic and drive to accomplish other career objectives.”
More information about Dr. Marrero’s musical background and how it has helped him in education, along with more exclusive interview content with Dr. Marrero, can be found on Inkwell’s website.