Featured Alumnus: Jonathan Higginbotham ‘07
“Aspirando et Perseverando — that definitely stuck with me”
In order to graduate from Avon Old Farms, each student needs to adopt and embrace the school’s motto: aspirando et perseverando. For proof, just ask any current or former student. In order to succeed as a professional actor, this motto needs to be maintained even after walking through Alumni Gate. For proof, just ask Jonathan Higginbotham ’07.
Jon, or “Higgy,” studied at the British American Drama Academy in Oxford. He holds a B.A. from Hamilton College and an M.F.A from Yale School of Drama. He has performed on Broadway in the show Slave Play, which received a record-breaking 12 Tony Award nominations. He has also appeared on television in award-winning shows like The Blacklist, and is currently finishing up a new Walking Dead series called The Walking Dead: Dead City. He says this most recent role has been really fun.
“I’m working with some really great actors, writers, and directors,” Higgy says. “I got to do a fight scene and kill some zombies, too!”
He says that while he’s proud to have performed those gigs, the work he’s most proud of is not necessarily a particular show, but rather the work that got him to where he is.
“I’m most proud of the work I did when I was just trying to figure it all out. Without an agent, without a manager—that was pretty tough. But looking back it almost seemed necessary for me, and I’m glad I went through it. It got me to where I am now and I’m proud of that.”
That’s where the aspirando et perseverando comes in.
“After graduating from Yale, I moved to New York City and signed with an agent and manager. I started auditioning and had a couple good ones here and there, but it wasn’t long before I face-planted. My audition game was in rough shape, I was freezing up, forgetting lines, just not doing well in the audition rooms.”
After about six or seven months of struggling through auditions and not seeing a breakthrough, Higgy was dropped by his manager and agent. It seemed his connection to the industry was severed. “It was pretty devastating.”
At this point, he stopped acting altogether and eventually got a job at a restaurant. After a few months of reading Shakespeare on his lunch breaks, the motto that had been instilled in Higgy from his days in Avon came back to him. He had to get back into acting.
“I wasn’t really sure how to go about that considering I was, at that time, without an agent or manager,” Higgy explains. “I started out by researching casting agencies, found their contact info and started calling. I contacted directors and writers. I went to open casting calls, waited in line, waited some more, went to more open calls, waited a bit more until, finally, I booked a theater gig back home in Boston.”
This gig, a Shakespeare show, led to more regional theater gigs. This led to an increase in confidence going into auditions, landed him a new agent, and eventually led to his getting cast for his Broadway debut.
Based on his recent success in the industry, it’s surprising to know that Higgy did not perform in any theater while at Avon. He says that while he wishes he did, he loved his Avon experience just the way it was.
“The coaches and teachers I had at Avon were incredibly influential to me. I can look back and see how devoted they were to their jobs, to their place in the community, and how much care and support they gave,” Higgy says. “They were remarkable role models in numerous ways. I have an enormous amount of respect and gratitude toward the entire Avon community. The school is very much a part of me. Aspirando et perseverando—that definitely stuck with me, too.”
He does admit that while at Avon he tended to goof off in class from time to time. “To all my teachers reading this, I appreciate your patience and guidance. The 5 a.m. wake ups were well-deserved.”
Now, Higgy says that whenever he’s back on campus, he feels “invigorated,” and is particularly pleased with how much the arts are expanding at Avon right now.
“I saw some artwork by the students when I was back for my reunion and it was exceptional, inspiring.”
To these current art students, Higgy offers some advice: “Take up other hobbies. Learn an instrument, paint, write, sing, travel if you get the opportunity, talk to people, ask questions, stay curious, daydream, and explore as much as you can because your life experience will feed you most in pursuing the arts.”
Luckily for current students, all of that can be done right here at Avon Old Farms School.