By Hannah Pugh

I had the privilege of sitting down with Elena Chernov, a journalism student at Wheaton College. We sat in a conference room. She laughs, acknowledging her amusement at being interviewed. Elena has fair skin, long brown hair and blue eyes. She has a gentle kindness about her. After a few introductory remarks, I scribbled notes down as Elena told me her powerful story.

Elena’s Earlier Years

Growing up in Illinois, Elena enjoyed acting, singing and writing. Most of all, she loved to ask questions. Elena’s mother describes: “she would always ask questions since childhood, and teachers would mention she was the first to raise her hand. She loved to learn and ask questions in school.” Elena wanted to listen to what people had to say and why they believed what they believed.

All of Elena’s endeavors have been driven by her curiosity and large heart. When asked where this drive comes from, Elena responds: “I think it is to connect people to find out their stories. Since early in my childhood, something in me has wanted to let other people express their voice and express their story. Especially those people who don’t have a voice.” She was interested in asking others what their dreams were.

She continues “I was always really interested in what people thought about God, and what they thought about love.” She loved love stories. She would often ask couples how they met. Additionally, Elena is also a story-teller and a writer. From a young age, she has written fiction, stories, and travel pieces. “I would always watch interviews,” Elena shares with a soft smile, “and I still do. I like to watch interviews with public figures, presidents, celebrities, musicians, and artists.”

Unfortunately, Elena’s father left her and her mom in her late teens. This experience solidified her passions and interests. She sought her art as a means to express herself and her story. “Everything in life shapes us, whether that’s acting or a different form of art. When my Dad left I delved into that.” She always had a spark in her artistic expression, but her painful experiences brought out a depth and complexity which launched her forward in acting. 

Elena’s Big Break

When Elena was 19, she had the opportunity to participate in Actors, Models Talent for Christ. Elena’s mother explained: “Elena put in a lot of hours in preparing for AMTC, lots of practice and perseverance in not giving up.” Through the training program, she excelled. She was tried and accepted for acting and singing. She reflects on the process: “It was so stressful. We worked from seven A.M. until ten P.M.” The event took place in a large ballroom containing a thousand people or more. There were professional cameras, lights and sound equipment. She reflects, “it was like we were introduced to this whole different world.”

Towards the end of the program, she spontaneously encountered an audition. Talent scouts and casting people were there to grant scholarship recipients. A room of people lined up to sign up to audition. Elena asked someone nearby what the audition was for, and they explained that it was for acting colleges. Elena was able to get a last-minute audition. “I didn’t have a monologue prepared. I performed a monologue I performed on camera in another set. The monologue was called “Things My Father Left Me- The Coffee Cup Monologue.”

The Coffee Cup Monologue

Elena entered the room. She stood in front of the talent scout who was seated at a desk. He announced “whenever you’re ready.” She started the monologue. “My dad left when I was seventeen.” She pauses. “I don’t know why I walked to the diner on my own and ordered our usual coffee. One black, and one with two creams and two sugars. And waited. He never came.” Elena stopped and let tears stream down her face. She continued: “I ordered two cups. Just in case.”

The room was completely silent. The judge stared at Elena in shock. There was a pause. He didn’t say anything, and she didn’t say anything. Then the audition ended.

At the end of the program, nine-hundred performers gathered for an awards banquet. Elena sat awaiting the results of her last-minute scholarship audition. They announced a list of sixteen winners. Elena heard her name called. Shocked, she arose and walked to the stage and accepted the award. She received a major scholarship to the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts in Manhattan.

Elena’s Life Takes a Turn

Through a series of difficult decisions, although immensely grateful for the opportunity, she ultimately turned down the scholarship, chose to attend Wheaton College, and shifted her focus to journalism. Her mother reflected on this decision “in the beginning, of course, there was some disappointment, but then there’s always God’s timing and the best is yet to come.”

Growing up, when Elena saw people who were hurting, she felt a strong conviction to take action in supporting others. She was disturbed by injustice. Elena explains, “if I saw someone manipulated or in an unjust power dynamic, or people growing up in parts of the world where they have nothing.” She explains that this curiosity and this desire for justice brought acting and journalism into her life. She desired to be a voice for them. Elena believes that through story-telling we can practice empathy. We can let hurting people know that they are seen and heard. Elena shares that in providing the voice to the voiceless, we can reflect the character of God. 

She continues, “Expression is in everything we do, not just acting. It’s in speaking and listening. Walking and smiling at someone. I think that all of it connects. Singing, acting, journalism connects. In acting you are showing another person, you are taking the person’s character. You are giving them a voice. “I see you and I get you.” You are showing that what they are going through is a reality and it is hard, but that there is light at the end of this road. In journalism, you are giving a direct voice. You are the one putting it all together and giving that story to the rest of the world. By being the voice you are expressing their voice by making their story be heard. It all connects. “