Gilliam finds Japan, activism and snow

Gilliam’s major advisor, Professor of Political Science Javier Corrales, enjoyed working with him. “Jay is the kind of student who has an insatiable hunger for new experiences and new knowledge,” he said.

Falling for Amherst

You might know Gilliam as “that guy from the Madrigals” or “that guy from Route 9.” What you probably do not know, however, is that Gilliam has not been performing as a singer for long. When he was in middle school, Gilliam played trombone in the school band. It was not until high school that Gilliam started singing.

Gilliam recalls the pivotal time, in ninth grade, when he was planning the school award ceremony with his friend. “We were setting the music and were going to play Rod Stewart’s ‘Forever Young,'” he said. “We decided to sing along.”

Little did he and his friend know that the microphones had been turned on for the whole school. “The assistant principal rushed into the cafeteria � the choir teacher came in too,” he said. The choir teacher promptly asked Gilliam to join the choir, and so his singing career began.

Singing was just one of the many things that Gilliam fell into, including his college selection. It was almost senior year of high school, when he started looking for a school. “My sister was engaged, and her boyfriend, who went to UMass-Amherst, told me about Amherst College,” Gilliam said. One visit during Students of Color weekend, and Gilliam knew where he would be spending the next few years of his life. “I fell in love with the campus,” he said. At the time, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I thought Amherst would be a good place to find that out.”

Amherst and abroad

Gilliam later admitted to choosing Amherst for more than its beauty; he also came here because of the strong Japanese language program. He said, “I thought I was going to be in business [after college],” and saw a connection between Japanese and business. “I was influenced by Dewayne from ‘A Different World,’ who wanted to go into business and studied Japanese.”

Gilliam’s passion for the Japanese culture prompted him to study abroad at Tokyo’s Sophia University during the second semester of his junior year. While in Japan and living with a host family, Gilliam took in as many sights as possible and immersed himself in the rich culture.

You are probably thinking that this southern boy went to Japan to escape the New England winter, but that is not the case, since he actually prefers cold weather to hot weather.

Gilliam reminisced about his first snowfall. “It was on a Sunday � in early November. I called Mom and Dad and said, ‘It’s snowing here! It’s so pretty!'” Gilliam continued.

Gilliam did not spend all of his time at Amherst running around in the snow, especially during his first year when he was contemplating his future major. “When I came here I wanted to be a political science major. Second semester I thought about music or black studies or WAGS or a mix of all that, so I started taking a mix of classes across the board.” Finally, Gilliam said, “I came back to poli sci.”

Activism experience

In order to garner political experience outside of the classroom and outside his term and a half as a class senator, Gilliam took advantage of his many breaks from school to engage in political activism. After his freshman year, Gilliam spent the summer interning for his congressman, Martin Frost.

Then, during Interterm his sophomore year, Gilliam worked for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington, D.C., where he worked under their state legislative lawyer.

He also exhibited his enthusiasm for this issue on campus, where he dedicated a lot of his time to the Pride Alliance, which he helped consolidate and turn around. “I wanted to have this nice queer community and have its allies clearly develop,” Gilliam said.

Gilliam’s interest in group identification prompted him to write a thesis on the subject. Professor Corrales explained, “He wrote a thesis on a complicated subject about the conflicts, if any, between making claims based on group identity and making claims based on equality of inclusion.”

The summer after his sophomore year, Gilliam worked in the finance department on a senate campaign for Ron Kirk. In this position, Gilliam learned to vet.

Gilliam explained vetting as “trying to snoop out information about people” in order to obtain background information from which to generate funding requests from individuals. This highly advanced fundraising technique is accomplished through the traditional “stalking” method: entering a person’s name in the search field on both the Yahoo! and Google Web sites.

Future plans in Japan

A permanent career is still an uncertainty in Gilliam’s mind. “I still don’t know what I really want to do in life, but I know what I want to do next year. I’m going back to Japan next year to teach at a language school [Anova], teaching conversational English and hanging out in Japan,” he said.

Gilliam is also looking forward to traveling around Southeast Asia and attaining complete independence. “I’m going to be on the other side of the world for a longer period of time than I was before. I like that I’m going to be kind of in a familiar place and that I can work on my Japanese language skills, but I’ll have more freedom-my own place, my own money,” he said.

Although his plans are still up in the air, Gilliam does have one goal in mind. “I want to retire at 40,” he said.