Divine Marsh has tried nearly everything she can think of to pay for her education.
The 19-year-old tried to find co-signers willing to help pay for her schooling. Forty of her friends sent letters to the dean of Ithaca College on her behalf. She even considered asking Oprah for help.
But now she has a new plan: she’s using her God-given talent to raise funds to pay her second semester’s tuition. Marsh, a musical theater major at Ithaca College, will perform a cabaret from 6 to 8 p.m. on Sunday at Bethel Restoration Center.
Ithaca College is a private school located in Ithaca, N.Y. Its musical theater program is renowned and highly competitive; Tony nominee Kerry Butler, who originated the role of Penny Pingleton in “Hairspray” on Broadway, is an alumnus. The school’s yearly tuition is approximately $46,000.
Marsh, a 2008 graduate of Lafayette High School, initially started her college career in the theater program at Regent University. She craved a more rigorous program and at the advice of fellow performers at Busch Gardens’ Howl-o-Scream, she applied to transfer to Ithaca. The theater department was impressed with her audition and admitted her to the school, which routinely cuts students from the program each semester. Marsh made the first cut, but might not be able to continue her studies at the school.
When she started the semester, she didn’t have all her funding lined up and within three weeks, the finance office let her know she still owed a substantial amount of money. Since then, she has tried just about everything to stay in school, from a letter-writing campaign to pleading with the financial aid office. Finally, the school pledged to give her a scholarship if she could provide $10,000 by the second semester.
If she can finish her freshman year, she thinks she can apply for scholarships, loans and contests to help her continue in the program until she graduates. In the meantime, she has recruited some talented friends to perform in Sunday’s cabaret, which will feature ballet, piano and singing performances. Marsh plans to sing selections from “The Wiz” and “Children of Eden,” and will sing a duet with her father, James.
The performance is free, but Marsh will accept any and all donations. “Whatever they’re willing to give…I want them to see me perform, so they know what their money is going to,” she says.
Bethel Restoration Center was happy to help, she says. “They love me. All the little kids think I’m a celebrity,” she says. “I’m just trying to be an example for them. In order for me to be that example, I have to actually go after my dreams and become something.”
Her biggest inspiration to follow her dreams is her late mother, Clarissa, who died of breast cancer two years ago. “She earned her master’s degree from William and Mary … she was very strong,” she says. “She inspired me to follow my dreams and be a go-getter.”
It was her mother who helped Divine get into the School of the Arts at Bruton High School, even though she lived in James City County. She has also performed on the Spirit of Norfolk and at Busch Gardens. She hopes to learn more at school; she’s interested in ballet, piano and developing her craft. And when her education is complete, she hopes to become a role model for Christian girls and women everywhere.
“I hold my Christianity dear to me,” she says. “I want to be an actress and a singer, but I want to do it for the Lord.”