Suffolk alumnus Jacob Athyal has been busy working as a professional actor in the Boston area for the past two years, but he is about to walk off stage and accept an entirely new role as a Peace Corps volunteer.
“I know this can sound odd to most people, but the more you know about yourself, the better you can lend yourself to others,” said the 2014 grad, who honed his craft as an actor in the University’s Theatre Department. “I’m just trying to figure things out, and I think the Peace Corps provides the best opportunity for that.”
Hopes to serve in Darfur
Athyal, who is from India, says that if he had a choice his two-year Peace Corps commitment would involve working in an orphanage in Darfur, Sudan, where civil war and genocide have reigned for more than a dozen years.
“I come from a family that would run towards a burning building, where most people would run away from it,” he said. “My family is made up of doctors and humanitarians—we are all about helping people.”
Experience working with orphans
Following in his family’s footsteps, Athyal cares deeply about improving the lives of others. He worked in an orphanage in Honduras during the summer of 2010, caring for abandoned children.
“The moment I was invited to go there, I was opened to a brand-new world of working to help people and, in turn, understanding more about myself,” he said. “You realize that by helping people and trying to make the world a little better, it helps you figure out where you fit in the world.
“It’s quite cathartic. If you think about it that way, helping others could be considered a pretty selfish thing to do. You’re the one who ends up most fulfilled.”
Although he may miss the bright lights and applause of acting, Athyal is embracing his Peace Corps opportunity with a clear mind. “I’ve decided to just let life take me where I need to go,” he said.
Adapting lessons to new role
Athyal has made a name for himself on stage since graduating from Suffolk. His roles have ranged from the Helper in Red Hot Patriot to the Great Goblin in The Hobbit, and his versatility as a performer has put him in high demand.
“I haven’t had one day off in two years,” he said. “It seems that when one show stops, it’s time to start rehearsing for another one.”
He attributes his success to the theatrical training he received at Suffolk and recalled some of the core lessons, such as: “When the deadline comes, it doesn’t matter if it’s perfect or not, it must be met,” “be professional and kind,” and “hard work outweighs talent.”
“That last one is gold for me,” he said. “The amount of talent in just one of my theater classes was overwhelming. But I learned that even though many people around you can be naturally gifted, you just need to work harder than them and you’ll be fine.”
Now Athyal plans to adapt those lessons to his new role promoting peace and friendship as a Peace Corps volunteer, a role that also will require professionalism, kindness, and hard work.
“Jake will succeed in whatever he sets his mind to in the future,” said Professor Richard Chambers of Suffolk’s Theatre Department. “He has a wide range of emotions that he can bring to bear with ease, a great sense of humor and a warm smile, but he can also summon a fierceness that can quite intimidating. He can make whatever life he wants for himself, which is a true joy to see.”