Education

Aspiring artist is also a realist

In a world of high school graduates who talk of careers in banking, engineering, medicine and government, there is still room for Alex McKenzie.

“It seems like our society pushes people toward achieving success in the corporate world,” McKenzie says. “But there are still a few of us out here, I guess.”

McKenzie, 18, is an artist.

Friday, he graduated from South Mecklenburg High in ceremonies at Cricket Arena. In August, he moves on to UNC Greensboro to major in art studies. And sometime in the next four years, he plans to figure out how to make a living – without surrendering his passion.

“That's the trick,” says McKenzie, who left South Meck with a GPA around 4.2, and earlier this spring won the annual 12th District Congressional Art Competition. “It would be really cool if I could come out of college and be a practicing artist, but I know the odds are against that.

“So I'll probably double-major in business, so maybe I could run a gallery and keep painting.”

About two months ago, he made a difficult decision, choosing to focus on his form of art – which leans toward abstract paintings – instead of studying in a design-oriented art program where graduates can

land careers with more lucrative salaries.

“I think my parents wanted me to go to N.C. State and focus on design,” he says.

“But they were supportive of me when I finally made the choice.”

His mother, Rachel McKenzie, principal at Olde Providence Elementary, confirms her son's suspicion.

“Yes, I guess we were a little disappointed,” she says. “We joke that we'll be building him a cottage in our backyard when he graduates.

“But we want him to find a path that will allow him to pursue his passion. I think that sometime over the four years he's in college, Alex will find a way to do what he wants – and make a living. He is very talented, and we're excited for him.”

There are no questions about his abilities.

Rachel McKenzie recalls when her son was 4, and an insurance agent came to talk with her and husband Russell, a jewelry designer.

“We were trying to find a way to keep our child busy while we talked, so we told him to draw a picture of the insurance agent,” she says.

When the agent left, the McKenzies found a detailed drawing of the man, complete with a nearly bald head and other features.

Along the way, Alex says, he had some great teachers: Lynn Wu of Myers Park High (where he attended in ninth and 10th grades) and Tony Howard of South Meck.

“Lynn Wu made art much more than drawing lines, and Tony Howard is a big reason why I won the Congressional competition,” he says.

They helped him understand, he adds, that art began as a means of communication and has evolved into much more today. “We need art in our world.”

Artists are a different breed, McKenzie concedes, but says he has much in common with graduates who will pursue more traditional careers.

“We all have the dream of pursuing our passion,” he says. “That's what the rest of our lives is all about. I'm looking forward to pursuing mine.”

In a world of high school graduates who talk of careers in banking, engineering, medicine and government, there is still room for Alex McKenzie.

“It seems like our society pushes people toward achieving success in the corporate world,” McKenzie says. “But there are still a few of us out here, I guess.”

McKenzie, 18, is an artist.

Friday, he graduated from South Mecklenburg High in ceremonies at Cricket Arena. In August, he moves on to UNC Greensboro to major in art studies. And sometime in the next four years, he plans to figure out how to make a living – without surrendering his passion.

“That's the trick,” says McKenzie, who left South Meck with a GPA around 4.2, and earlier this spring won the annual 12th District Congressional Art Competition. “It would be really cool if I could come out of college and be a practicing artist, but I know the odds are against that.

“So I'll probably double-major in business, so maybe I could run a gallery and keep painting.”

About two months ago, he made a difficult decision, choosing to focus on his form of art – which leans toward abstract paintings – instead of studying in a design-oriented art program where graduates can

land careers with more lucrative salaries.

“I think my parents wanted me to go to N.C. State and focus on design,” he says.

“But they were supportive of me when I finally made the choice.”

His mother, Rachel McKenzie, principal at Olde Providence Elementary, confirms her son's suspicion.

“Yes, I guess we were a little disappointed,” she says. “We joke that we'll be building him a cottage in our backyard when he graduates.

“But we want him to find a path that will allow him to pursue his passion. I think that sometime over the four years he's in college, Alex will find a way to do what he wants – and make a living. He is very talented, and we're excited for him.”

There are no questions about his abilities.

Rachel McKenzie recalls when her son was 4, and an insurance agent came to talk with her and husband Russell, a jewelry designer.

“We were trying to find a way to keep our child busy while we talked, so we told him to draw a picture of the insurance agent,” she says.

When the agent left, the McKenzies found a detailed drawing of the man, complete with a nearly bald head and other features.

Along the way, Alex says, he had some great teachers: Lynn Wu of Myers Park High (where he attended in ninth and 10th grades) and Tony Howard of South Meck.

“Lynn Wu made art much more than drawing lines, and Tony Howard is a big reason why I won the Congressional competition,” he says.

They helped him understand, he adds, that art began as a means of communication and has evolved into much more today. “We need art in our world.”

Artists are a different breed, McKenzie concedes, but says he has much in common with graduates who will pursue more traditional careers.

“We all have the dream of pursuing our passion,” he says. “That's what the rest of our lives is all about. I'm looking forward to pursuing mine.”

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