Jackson Murray and Isabella Wallace first met in seventh grade in Summerville, South Carolina. Murray was a soccer player who recently relocated from Washington state. He did not have much interest in singing, but grew up in a family that valued the arts.
Wallace, on the other hand, has been singing all her life. Her mother is a music teacher and was even her middle school music teacher for two years. Over the years, the two have become close friends, and they’ll soon be retiring from college careers worthy of a Hollywood finale.
Despite having very different starting points for their musical development, they will leave campus with the kind of curtain calls only two friends can share. The duo’s decades-long friendship will take center stage during Tuesday’s opening ceremony in Statesboro, Georgia. Chosen for an ultimate honor, they will have their final performance of the Georgia Southern national anthem at their graduation together.
But how did their friendship begin in middle school?
The two met in seventh grade. Murray was a soccer player and had little interest in singing. Wallace grew up in a musician’s home.
“I convinced Jackson to join the chorus at a Halloween party,” Wallace said. “He came dressed as a soccer player because he was only wearing some soccer gear. My mom and I told him to join the chorus and we kind of convinced him and he loved it.”
However, it initially proved difficult to sell. He says he started singing in eighth grade because, like many high school students, he had to take art classes.
“I hated drawing and didn’t want to learn an instrument,” he said. “Well I think I’ll go with the choir because they travel. I made it a hobby at that point.”
But it was soon to become much more than a hobby. Murray eventually hung up his boots to devote more time to the performance. He continued to perform alongside his friend Wallace throughout his high school career.
The duo continued to perform together as they enrolled at Georgia Southern University. They loved the campus and opportunities within the Eagle Fine Arts Communities, and forgoing tuition for state tariffs solidified their decision to come to Georgia Southern. They received these waiver emails just before they took the stage at their high school performance hairspray. Wallace said she doesn’t remember the performance, but she does remember getting the exciting news with Murray backstage.
As they took their first steps on campus as members of Eagle Nation, both said the hard work had begun.
Both Murray and Wallace said it took talking with friends and hitting breaking points to finally review their commitments. Shortly thereafter, they began to ease the workload to refocus on the quality of their work and enjoying the experience. This investment has paid off.
After re-engaging in their college experiences, they began taking leadership roles in their choirs and groups. In addition, they were able to actually experience the places where their work had taken them.
During her time with Eagle Nation, her groups won two international singing competitions. The Southern Chorale made two separate trips to Germany in the last four years. The first time, the students said, focused on competition. The last time in spring 2022, although still victorious in their respective categories, they devoted more time to enjoying their time abroad. Students credit their teachers for providing them with such worldly adventures.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to know that we have professors who care about us as much as they do and care about us and will work for us just as much,” Wallace said. “I can’t think of a single professor right now who wouldn’t fight for me and they treat us in a way that makes you feel important.”
Traditionally, there is only one performer who sings the national anthem and the alma mater at the beginning. But this year Georgia Southern will shake that up. The faculty members responsible for selecting the singers recognized the bond Murray and Wallace shared throughout their careers. To acknowledge this, they decided to have them both sing side by side.
“Honestly, I laughed when I saw that email because it’s straight out of a movie,” Wallace said. “It’s fun because we came together and we can go together.”
Life can be quite cyclical, especially in improbable ways.
Murray, who originally agreed to join the middle school choir because of the travel, is now a music teacher himself. He said he found his passion for music as well as teachers who inspired him to become a leader himself.
Both Murray and Wallace cited Shannon Jeffreys, DMA, Director of Choral Activities, as their greatest influence during their time at Georgia Southern. She made trips to Summerville to visit them as high school students. These efforts not only helped bring the duo to Statesboro, but also forged a strong bond between the three.
“I wouldn’t be the leader I am today without these wonderful examples,” said Murray. “The people in the admissions office and choral department here are fantastic and professional. They do things for professional development, not for themselves, but for their students, for their workers, and for their employees.”
Two kids from a small town in South Carolina. One is enthusiastic about sports, the other the daughter of a music teacher. One last time they show their talent at Georgia Southern University.