Theater Major Credits Optimism for Overcoming Obstacles from Rocky Childhood

“Overcoming these obstacles was the best thing that could have happened to me. I wouldn’t trade a single moment of it because it has led me to where I am, and shaped me into the person I am today.”

San Jacinto College South Campus theater student Chelse Tillman’s inspiring words illustrate the positive way she chooses to view the challenges she faced in her life.

Tillman grew up in Dallas, Texas with her family. After her parents’ split, she moved in with her Grandmother and attended an area high school.

“My family situation is difficult which makes things rough at times,” Tillman says, “but I know that in the end everything is going to work out for the best.”

Still not entirely sure why they split up, Tillman says her parents were heavy drug users. Her mother more so, which meant she was high a lot of the time. In addition to drugs, both parents were seeing other people adding more fuel to the fire of their volatile marriage.

Specifically, Tillman says, “My mom and dad were alcoholics and drug addicts that worked minimum wage jobs. Parenting just wasn’t something they were capable of at the time.”

Her grandmother won custody of Tillman and her brother, but became unexpectedly ill during her junior year in high school resulting in another unexpected change in residence. She came to live with her Aunt Susan and Uncle Nick Crnkovic in Houston.

“It was rough moving for my senior year in high school,” Tillman says. “But there are people I have become close with in Houston that made all the moving worth it.”

On stage is where Tillman says she escapes reality and feels free to be herself.

“Theater always helps me cope with things,” Tillman says. “When I am on stage performing or speaking, it helps to remind me that I do have a bright future ahead, and that is a comforting feeling when everything else seems to be falling apart.”

Meanwhile, Tillman says her life is not easy, but she makes the best of situations and sees how the difficult experiences could benefit her future.

“It is just hard juggling school, work, play rehearsals, sleep and a social life,” she adds.

Tillman’s most memorable moment in theater was during her sophomore year in high school when she was in her first play. Her role as an understudy changed her view of acting.

“The reason this is my greatest achievement is because I got to prove my talent when I got the role,” Tillman says. “It fueled my passion for acting.”

Life has been a journey and is still tough, but she says, “instead of worrying about everything crumbling around me, it is all about fixing your attitude.”

Furthermore, Tillman credits many people for helping her along the way including her first high school theater teacher, Mr. Standly.

“He was such a huge influence in my life because he saw something in me that no one else did, and without him I wouldn’t be who I am today,” she says.

Even now, Tillman continues to face challenges, but makes a personal decision to stay optimistic.

“Hope helped me to keep going,” she says. “When obstacles would feel impossible to overcome, faith and hope that everything was going to be okay, were all I had, and I was content with that.”

Tillman encourages those facing difficult times to keep going.

“Anyone who is struggling to overcome obstacles; do not give up,” she adds. “It may seem hard now, but it will be worth it in the end. Just stay positive and work hard in everything you do!”

Tillman’s cousin Sarah Crnkovic says, “It has been a privilege, to over the years, watch Chelse learn, develop and grow into the wonderful, amazingly talented woman she is today. I am so proud of her and all she has accomplished.”

Her grandmother, Deana Harris says, “Chelse chose to leave everything that made up her world. She left her friends, activities, her favorite teacher and mentor, and her rock.”

However, Harris adds, although Tillman coped with loneliness and fear, and had to integrate herself into a new family, those experiences brought her to this point in her life.

“She is now strong,” Harris says, “and now a focused young woman.”