The COVID-19 pandemic put a hard stop to in-person performances and events on campus this past year, but it couldn’t stop junior Quincey Johnston and the Pitt Program Council (PPC) staff.
In March 2020, just before one of PPC’s biggest campus events, Bigelow Bash, the University shifted to remote living and learning for the remainder of the semester. This left the programming council wondering, “What happens to our events now?” as they worked to adapt.
“The responsibility that comes with working on the Pitt Program Council is one that many may not fully understand,” said assistant director of student life and advisor to the Pitt Program Council Tom Misuraca. While an audience experiences a fun, hour-long event, behind the scenes, student leaders have put in weeks of planning, logistics and promotion.
As safety restrictions like physical distancing became crucial to slowing the spread of COVID-19, Johnston worked through the summer along with other PPC staff to re-think capturing an audience with their lecture series. In a normal year, Johnston would have found herself sitting across from the notable celebrities they booked, such as Andrew Rea, best known for his YouTube show, “Binging with Babish,” politician Andrew Yang, author Ibram X. Kendi, actress Keke Palmer and producer and co-creator of “Schitt’s Creek,” Dan Levy.
Up next, Jonathan Van Ness
Johnston will sit down with one more highly anticipated guest speaker, Jonathan Van Ness. Johnston and Barrie Wiener, president of Pitt’s Rainbow Alliance will co-moderate the event on Monday, April 19 beginning at 8:30 p.m. The event is free to the Pitt community and the Zoom link will be available the day of the event.
Instead, under Johnston’s leadership, the lecture series turned into intimate conversations between the speaker and audience on the other end of the screen. In fact, without travel and lodging costs, PPC managed to double the amount of lecture events held, for a total of 11 virtual lectures.
While navigating a new landscape of virtual lectures, it was important to Johnston that she continued to deliver high-quality programs that her fellow Panthers would enjoy.
Olivia Orend, program coordinator for first year experience and advisor to Pitt Program Council echoed this by saying, “Pitt Program Council hosts events for students to engage and connect with Pitt. Whether its hybrid programs or back to in-person events, that will always be our goal—to connect students.”
Passing the mic
If you have seen Johnston moderate a Q&A event, then you know she is a confident, lively speaker with a Zoom call list full of celebrities. Her curious nature and willingness to take on challenges is the spark that has kept her leadership flame ablaze as she looks to passing the torch to a new director after her last event on April 19.
Johnston will pass the mic to her successor, Lydon Pelletier, a computer science major who currently serves as the travel director for PPC. For that committee, Pelletier was responsible for planning trips for Pitt students including one of their most beloved outings, the New York City Broadway trip.
In a creative alternative to an in-person event, the “Virtual Broadway Weekend” consisted of a virtual concert and Q&A with Krystal Joy Brown, current Eliza in “Hamilton;” a “Lion King” makeup class with the show’s Brenda O’Brien; a choregraphy lesson with David Numann who choreographs for “Hadestown”; and Q&A called, “Broadway Sounds: How Do They Happen?” with Jessica Paz who is a co-sound designer for “Hadestown.”
With her experience in coordinating new takes on beloved events, Pelletier feels ready to step into the role of lecture director and looks forward to planning in-person lectures for the upcoming fall term.