Actor Shea Whigham and university professor Dr. Henry Musoma have very different lives and careers.
However, both have gained national attention and credit Tyler Junior College as the place where their success stories began and where they found their passion and direction.
During last weekend’s TJC Homecoming events, Whigham and Musoma returned to share their stories and remember their days at TJC.
Shea Whigham ’89
Acclaimed Career Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Performing Arts
Shea Whigham is living proof of the saying, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.”’
During homecoming activities, Whigham received the TJC Alumni Association’s Acclaimed Career Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Performing Arts and was named a Legend of TJC, a program created to honor the College’s most notable, living alumni.
He was also named the first winner of TJC’s Ovation Award, which honors graduates of TJC’s performing arts programs.
When Whigham came to TJC from Florida on a tennis scholarship in the late 1980s, being an actor was likely the furthest thing from his mind.
As evidenced by the résumé he’s built since then, it appears his switch from the tennis court to the stage was a solid decision.
Whigham is best known for his role as Elias “Eli” Thompson in the HBO drama series, “Boardwalk Empire,” as well as supporting roles in “Kong: Skull Island” and “True Detective.”
He and the “Boardwalk Empire” cast won three Screen Actors Guild Awards for outstanding performance by an ensemble in a drama series. He has worked with such Hollywood notables as Robert DeNiro, Anthony Hopkins, Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale and Sean Penn in films including “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “American Hustle” and “Silver Linings Playbook.”
He has worked with such legendary directors as Martin Scorsese, Robert Redford, Terrence Malick, Werner Herzog, Oliver Stone, David O. Russell and Robert Rodriguez.
Next, Whigham can be seen in the new Amazon series, “Homecoming,” opposite Julia Roberts, Sissy Spacek and Dermot Mulroney.
He’s currently working on a new film, “The Joker,” starring Joaquin Phoenix, set for release in late 2019. In fact, his producers gave him a couple of days off to attend the TJC event.
The actor prepares
Asked about his discovery of Whigham, TJC theater professor Dr. David W. Crawford smiles and nods like a proud papa.
“Shea was in an Intro to Theatre class and they went to a play performance because he got extra credit,” he said. “He came back to class and said, ‘I can do that and I can do it better than they can.’
“So, he auditioned for the next play, Sam Shepard’s ‘Lie of the Mind,’ and he was good. He was better than almost anyone else we had that year and he had never done any theater in his life. He was this athlete-from-Florida-know-nothing and just this raw, passionate talent. And it just so happens the play and this part were perfect for him, like it was written for him.”
Whigham shrugs, “I wish I was half as confident as Doc just made me sound, but I had no business being in plays at that time. This place and these people are special. When I needed a home, they gave it to me.”
After his two years at TJC, Whigham was accepted to the State University of New York Purchase theater program.
Actor and TJC alumnus Shea Whigham conducts a master class for students Friday, Sept. 28, in Jean Browne Theatre on the TJC campus.
“The SUNY Purchase theater program is in the top five in the nation for actor training,” Crawford said. “They were totally impressed with his raw talent, his development and his training; and he graduated from the program. After that, he went to New York and then moved to Hollywood and now goes back and forth.”
Making a name for himself
Whigham works steadily now, but that wasn’t always the case.
In his master class with TJC theater students last week, Whigham shared fun, Hollywood backstories such as his “Tigerland” audition with Colin Ferrell, in which the two broke into an improvised, fake fight that got out of hand and led to bloodshed; but he also pulled no punches in telling students about the struggle that comes with being an actor.
“When I first got out of college, I went to New York and everyone in my theater group got signed with an agent except me,” he said. “True story. There I was in New York, and I didn’t have an agent. So, I took my credit card and started a theater company.”
Whigham and his SUNY roommate, actor Kirk Acevedo co-founded a New York City theatre troupe, The Rorschach Group, with Whigham serving as an actor and artistic director for its first three years.
His big break came in 2000, when he was cast opposite Farrell in “Tigerland.”
“It’s easy to be positive during the good times,” he said. “but you’ve got to be willing to dig deep and live through the low times in order to fully appreciate when the good times come.
“Every day, I see people who are so much more talented than me who are still looking for their big break. We’ve all been there. So much of it is timing and luck; but also, there’s the act of keeping your head up and doing the work, but you also have to be patient and let it come to you.”
Crawford said, “Shea Whigham is one of the hottest commodities in Hollywood right now. He’s one of ours, and we’re proud of him. I look back on his story and I think, ‘He was touched by God.’”
Dr. Henry K. Musoma ’98
Dr. Henry K. Musoma accepts the TJC Valuable Young Alumnus Award during the TJC Alumni Association’s annual awards dinner Friday, Sept. 28, on the TJC campus.
TJC Valuable Young Alumnus Award
Dr. Henry K. Musoma was born and raised in Zambia, in southern Africa. He attended high school in Zambia and Mozambique, then moved to the United States to pursue higher education.
His first stop was TJC, where he was active in student life and elected homecoming king. He graduated summa cum laude with an associate degree in agriculture. He went on to pursue bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agricultural leadership and education from Texas A&M University, and a doctorate in educational administration from Texas Christian University.
He is a clinical assistant professor and assistant director of the Center for International Business Studies in the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University. He believes that education is transformational and enjoys teaching young people about leadership. In addition to traditional lectures, he accompanies a group of Regents’ Scholars (first-generation college students) to Dubai, South Africa, and Zambia each summer and also leads a spring break program to Heifer International Ranch in Perryville, Ark.
Musoma has been actively involved in university and community leadership development throughout his academic tenure and has received numerous awards. Most recently, he was one of 24 recipients of the 2017 university-level Distinguished Achievement Awards, given to professionals who have exhibited the highest standards of excellence at Texas A&M.
His greatest recognition may not be for what he teaches directly, but how he teaches by example.
In 2017, he received the first Mays Spirit Award for his act of kindness to a student who couldn’t find a babysitter during class time. He encouraged her to bring the baby to class and even held the baby when he became fussy. The incident went viral on social media and Musoma received world-wide attention for his kindness; and he and the student and her son were invited to appear on the “Ellen” television show and national news programs.
“I never imagined such a thing would happen,” Musoma said. “I was just trying to make sure she had the support she needs to succeed – as I would for any student.”