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‘It’s like something from a movie’ for a pair of graduating Eagle singers

Isabella Wallace (left) and Jackson Murray (right) stand for a photo on the Georgia Southern campus in Statesboro. The two sang the National Anthem and alma mater after a decade-long friendship preceding their time as Eagles.

Jackson Murray and Isabella Wallace first met in seventh grade in Summerville, South Carolina. Murray was a soccer player who had recently moved from Washington state. He didn’t have much interest in singing, but did grow up in a family that appreciated the arts.

Wallace, meanwhile, has been singing for her entire life. Her mother is a music instructor, and was even their music teacher for two years of middle school. Over the years the two became close friends, and soon they will finish their college careers worthy of a Hollywood finale.

Despite having vastly different starting points for their musical development, they will walk off campus with the type of curtain call only two friends can share. During Tuesday’s commencement ceremony in Statesboro, Georgia, the duo’s decade-long friendship will be center stage. Selected for an ultimate honor, they will have their final Georgia Southern performance of the national anthem at their graduation together.

But how did their friendship start in middle school?

The two met in seventh grade. Murray was a soccer player and had little interest in singing. Wallace grew up in a house of musicians.

“I convinced Jackson to join the chorus at a Halloween party,” Wallace said. “He came dressed up as a soccer player because he just threw on some soccer gear. My mom and I told him he should join the chorus, and we somehow convinced him and he loved it.”

However, he proved to be a tough sell at first. He says he began singing in eighth grade because, like many high school students, he was required to take fine arts classes.

“I hated drawing and I did not want to learn an instrument,” he said. “Well, I guess I’ll go with the chorus, because they go on trips. I made it a hobby at that point.”

But it would soon become much more than a hobby. Murray eventually hung up his cleats to dedicate more time to performance. Throughout his entire high school career, he continued to perform alongside his friend, Wallace.

The duo continued to perform together when they enrolled at Georgia Southern University. They loved the campus and the opportunities within the Eagle fine arts communities, and the tuition waiver for in-state rates cemented their decision to come to Georgia Southern. They received those waiver emails just before taking the stage in their high school performance of Hairspray.  Wallace said she doesn’t remember the performance, but she does remember getting the exciting news with Murray backstage.

When they took their first steps on campus as members of Eagle Nation, they both said the hard work began.

Both Murray and Wallace said it took discussions with friends and reaching breaking points to finally re-examine their commitments. Shortly thereafter, they began to dial back the workload to refocus on the quality of their work and enjoy the experiences. This was an investment worth making.

After taking a new approach to their college experiences, they began taking leadership roles within their choruses and groups. Additionally, they were able to actually experience the places their work had taken them.

During their time with Eagle Nation, their groups won two international singing competitions. The Southern Chorale took two separate trips to Germany over the past four years. The first time, the students said, was focused on competition. This last time in spring 2022, while still victorious in their respective categories, they were more dedicated to enjoy their time overseas. The students credit their instructors with giving them such worldly adventures.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to know that we have professors that care as much as they do and will go to bat for us and advocate for us as strongly as they do,” Wallace said. “I can’t think of a single professor that I have right now that would not go to bat for me and they treat us in a way that makes you feel like you matter.”

Traditionally, there is only one performer to sing the national anthem and alma mater for commencement. But this year, Georgia Southern will be shaking that up. The faculty members in charge of picking the singers recognized the bond Murray and Wallace have had throughout their careers. To acknowledge this, they elected to have them both  sing side by side.

“Honestly, I laughed when I saw that email because it’s like out of a movie,” Wallace said. “It’s fun because we came in together, and we get to leave together.”

Life can be rather cyclical, especially in unlikely ways. 

Murray, who originally agreed to join the middle school chorus because of the trips, is now a music teacher himself. He said he found his passion for music as well as instructors who inspired him to be a leader himself.

Both Murray and Wallace named Shannon Jeffreys, DMA, director of choral activities, as their biggest influence during their time at Georgia Southern. She made trips to Summerville to visit them as high school students. These efforts not only helped bring the duo to Statesboro, but it also built a strong connection among the three.

“I would not be the leader I am today without these wonderful examples,” Murray said. “The people at the Office of Admissions and the choral department here are fantastic and professional. They do the things for professional development, not for themselves, but for their students, for their workers and for their employees.”

Two kids from a small town in South Carolina. One of them is into sports and the other is the daughter of a music teacher. For one last time, they showcase their talent Georgia Southern University.

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