Lisa Laymon

Lisa Laymon's power portrait

President's Scholar

Major: Theatre Arts with minor in TV/Film
College of Humanities & the Arts

Why did you choose your major?

I enrolled as a TV/film major, but my theatre appreciation professor made the subject so fascinating and compelling that I changed my major to theatre (with a minor in TV/film). Theatre and film are very different art forms, but both are about telling stories in a way that engages and moves people -- and both are evolving in a more immersive, interactive direction, where they increasingly overlap.

What does receiving this particular award mean to you?

I stopped attending San Jose State back in the 1980s because I was working full time to support myself. I had to travel for work and began missing a lot of classes. My grades declined sharply. It was frustrating and humiliating, as I had always been a good and dedicated student, but I just couldn’t do both. I had an astonishing career, working in investor relations and on corporate legal teams, but I was keenly aware what a privilege a good education is and how hard it is to succeed in Silicon Valley without a degree. Returning to SJSU at age 48, I committed to becoming an “A” student again. Being a President’s Scholar means I’ve worked to the best of my abilities and honored that commitment.

Who has had the greatest influence or impact on your life?  In addition, tell us about a SJSU faculty member who contributed to your academic success.

My father, Hal Blakeslee, was a model of kindness, generosity and perseverance. He made me believe there was nothing I couldn’t do, and that confidence has gotten me through a lot of challenges. My husband of nearly 24 years, Alex Laymon, has been an amazing supporter in my pursuit of this degree and the crazy things I do to support the arts -- including opening our home to student film crews for their projects, using our kitchen as a costume shop for weeks on end, and locking myself up with my laptop to study, research and write for my classes. 

The most influential professor during my recent time at SJSU is Professor Amy Glazer, with whom I have worked as a TA for several semesters. I have learned a lot from Amy about the blessings and challenges of a career that spans both theatre and film, as hers does.  She has provided the opportunity to use my skills and experience from the corporate world in a different way, and I’ve loved working with her and the students.

Describe an experience that has shaped who you are today.

For me, it’s not a single experience, but rather a lifetime of one door closing and another door opening, and having the courage to walk through that door even when you have no idea where it may lead. The hard things and the crazy challenges are what shape us. Once I realized that, my thinking changed -- so now, when I hit a bump in the road or a door opens in an unexpected direction, I see it positively, as an invitation to adventure. I may not always enjoy whatever it is at the time, but I know I’ll look back one day and know why it happened and where it led me.

What would you say to other students to encourage or inspire them to attain academic excellence?

We are fortunate to live in an epicenter of creativity and innovation. This valley is fast-paced and competitive, but the opportunities are infinite if you truly give your best effort to everything you do. When an unexpected door opens, walk through it with confidence in yourself. Be curious: ask good questions and listen with an open mind. Never stop learning.

What makes you a Spartan?

Like SJSU itself, I am a work in progress: a blend of old and new, with a love of classics and modernity, technology and the arts. I am humble, yet proud. And I am deeply, truly grateful for the opportunity to return and complete my degree here.

Nominated by Professor Amy Glazer, Theatre & Film
“Lisa originally entered the TRFT department as a student in 1982, focused on acting and stage management, while also working full-time at a Silicon Valley high tech company to support herself.  She left SJSU after several years to pursue that career, thinking she would put away some money and eventually return to finish the degree.  Her path led to a husband, children, and work in investor relations and on corporate legal teams.  But when her daughter left for college, Lisa decided to follow her heart, giving up her job at LinkedIn to return to SJSU after a break of over two decades.  She will graduate in May with a BA in Theatre and a minor in TV/Film, and our department has benefited greatly from her time here. As the teaching assistant for numerous theatre and film classes, Lisa’s leadership, passion and professionalism have made an enormous difference for the faculty she supports.  Lisa is frequently mistaken for a professor – not just because she looks like one, but because she is so often found helping her fellow students:  coaching a monologue, rounding up props for a scene, organizing materials for a professor, even opening her home to a large crew and cast for a student film production.  In addition to maintaining the highest academic standards, she has volunteered her time and talent as a designer, performer and producer for departmental projects and local community and professional theatres.”