Class of 1998
What journey did you take after high school? Please include all college, military and trade experiences.
My journey has been similar to that of most people…thus far, it has been full of as many ups as downs. I graduated from PEHS in 1998. After being recruited by several colleges for basketball, I chose to attend UW-Stevens Point. Though I loved the school, professors, and especially my teammates, I was unable to find a comfortable rythym with the basketball coach’s style. After I finished my freshman year at UW-Stevens Point, I transferred to UW-Whitewater. Though my new coach and I had a similar philosophy, I was never able to fit in with my teammates. With great sadness, I decided to quit the UW-Whitewater basketball team about halfway through my sophomore year. Since I had spent the better part of my middle school and high school years dedicating myself to a sport I loved, it was devastating that the college basketball experience felt more like a business than a hobby, and that I did not have what it took to finish what I started.
To fill the void that basketball had taken up, I focused my energy on earning my Bachelor of Arts in political science and coaching the Palmyra-Eagle Middle School 7th grade girls’ volleyball team and then the following year, the 8th grade girls’ volleyball team. I also spent my extra time playing music for anyone who wanted to listen. I played at some bars and restaurants in Eagle and Whitewater, sang the National Anthem at UW-Whitewater girls’ basketball games, and sang at various campus events. Through networking, I met radio host, Reggie Michaels from the country radio station 104.5 WSLD located in Whitewater. He interviewed me several times live on the air and let me sing 2 to 3 songs each time.
In December 2001, I graduated Cum Laude from UW-Whitewater with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, having had the pleasure of learning from phenomenal professors in that department. After graduation, my goal was to attend law school but my heart was pointing me to Nashville, Tennessee. Growing up I had always had two dreams: become a famous country singer and become a lawyer. Odd, I know! I decided to take the LSAT (which is a test similar to an ACT or SAT, but specific to applying to law school) and I applied to several law schools. Unfortunately, I was wait listed by Marquette University Law School and I was denied by all of my other choices. At first I was crushed and thought that I didn’t have what it took to become a lawyer. After returning home with all of my belongings packed in boxes, my parents and I discussed my musical aspirations. Within a month of graduation, and with my parents’ blessing, I headed for Nashville, Tennessee to pursue my dream of singing for a living. I drove to Nashville with only a handful of money from my Dad. The first night I was in Nashville, I met someone who said she knew of a law firm that was looking for an ‘Erin Brockovich’ type person to work closely with clients related to its class action lawsuits. Within the week I was hired and my parents drove all of my belongings down to me.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed my work, I really wanted to use my Political Science degree and work at the legislature. Nashville is the capitol of Tennessee, so the State Capitol building and General Assembly are located in downtown Nashville. My resume caught the eye of a Senator and I began working for him 6 months after moving to Nashville.
During the day, I worked as a Legislative Aide to Senator Micheal Williams, which enabled me to network with other politicians and lawyers, attend committee hearings and full senate hearings, give State Capitol tours to constituents, meet Governor Don Sundquist and Governor Phil Bredesen, attend the Inaugural Ball of Governor Phil Bredesen, and participate in many other exciting events. I spent my nights and weekends networking in the music industry, which enabled me to get back stage at the CMA Awards 2 years in a row, party with Wynona Judd, Billy Dean, Hank Williams, Jr., Gretchen Wilson, Phil Vassar, Joe Nichols, Eddie Montgomery, the artists from She-Daisy, Lonestar, and Rascal Flatts, and meet Toby Keith, Tracy Lawrence, and Jessica Andrews. I even snuck into a CMA Awards after party by walking into a restaurant with Kenny Chesney’s entourage. I played a gig at the famous Bluebird Café and won a talent contest at Douglas Corner. Through years of networking, I was able to write songs with hit songwriters Gary Hannan (who wrote Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off), Dean Miller (A Little Gasoline), Roger Cook (I Believe in You), Don Pfrimmer (My Front Porch Looking In), and others. Lonestar’s band cut a 4 song demo for me and then in 2006, I cut a full 12 song professional CD. With the help of my business manager, producer, and manager, we set up a website and began promoting my CD. My first real show was the most exciting experience. I was flown out to Utah where I opened for Eric Heatherly (who sang Flowers On the Wall), standing at the base of a mountain on a crisp evening looking up the incline at thousands of people.
Of course, like most journeys, I experienced low moments just as devastating as the good moments were amazing. After I returned from Utah, I discovered that my business manager was embezzling money and I had signed a bad contract with my producer. It was as if someone had pulled a giant rug out from under me. The Nashville music industry has a way of chewing you up and spitting you out if you let it. I decided to let it. After spending about 7 years in the music industry, I decided to walk away from it and pursue my second dream.
I began working as a legal secretary at downtown Nashville law firms and eventually worked my way up and into a large law firm, working for the construction group of attorneys. I took the LSAT again and applied to the Nashville School of Law, where I attended class at night for 5 years while I worked during the day as a legal secretary. This dream came with its own set of successes and failures. In 2014, I graduated from the Nashville School of Law with a Doctor of Jurisprudence. Unfortunately, a few months later I took and failed the bar exam. After a good cry and gallon of ice cream, I picked myself up, got back to studying, and passed the bar and became a licensed attorney in 2015.
Due to years of networking and a little luck, I got hired by a general contractor as its in-house counsel. Thus, I have only one client and mostly practice corporate law as it relates to the construction industry. Being an attorney is gratifying but my favorite part of my job is when I fly in our corporate plane for site visits, mediations and arbitrations in various states throughout the country.
In 2016, I invented a camping product, which is being designed and manufactured by my dad, Larry Gess, an accomplished inventor by trade. The product has been picked up by Academy Sports, Dollar General, and Wal-Mart, to name a few, and will be sold in stores in 2017.
I never imagined my life would look like this. Despite the roller coaster of the high highs and the very low lows, I am grateful for every bit of my life adventure.
What and where is your current profession/occupation?
In-House Legal Counsel at Construction Enterprises, Inc.
· a general contractor located in Franklin, Tennessee, ranked number 1 in building multi-family housing (mostly student housing at Universities) throughout the United States
How did your experience at Palmyra-Eagle impact your future?
I was fortunate to learn from a great staff of teachers and coaches who supported and encouraged me, challenged me, and fostered a comfortable atmosphere of creativity and learning. I was truly influenced by Becky (Fine) Rychlak, Sue Fisher, Tim Collins, and Nancy Naze, and cannot thank them enough for their patience and involvement in my development. Of course, I was most influenced by my mom, Diana Gess, who taught at Eagle Elementary for decades until she retired. She had even taught some of my classmates. My mom was a teacher at work and at home. She fed my curiosity and stressed the importance of being a lifelong learner. She was a true ‘school marm’ in the classic sense, who brought creativity and flare to her classrooms, hope to her struggling students, and knowledge and experience home to me.
Because of the small school size, I was able to able to perform in plays and musicals, go on trips with the choir, participate on the volleyball, basketball, and track teams, and take part in other school activities, including the ski club and student counsel. I believe that by having the opportunity and access to such wide a variety of interests, I was able to stay interested and engaged in school as well as define my talents and goals. Also, having participated in so many different activities has helped me be more rounded which has helped me network with many different kinds of people.
Palmyra-Eagle specifically impacted my future in connection with college. I took math classes through pre-calculus, Spanish 5, and 2 AP courses. Because of my education, I was able to skip and test out of several classes in college and obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree in 3 ½ years.
I am proud to have grown up in Palmyra and to have been educated in a small town/school atmosphere. I grew up riding my horse to Mary Ann's for frozen custard and my snowmobile to the gas station; playing basketball in Clinton with the support of our town who followed the buses to away games; meeting up with teachers outside of school who took me to see Broadway musicals in Chicago; and being comforted by teachers after rough games, trauma, and the death of Pat Oliver, a beloved English teacher. How many other places in the nation could I have experienced all of that while growing up safely tucked in a state forest?