Dear Montecito: Beatrice Tolan

By Stella Haffner   |   July 23, 2020

This week’s letter comes from a person who recently made their professional debut doing the 3D VFX work for the 2019 blockbuster Little Women. Animation student Beatrice Tolan is a rising senior at Northeastern University in Boston where she is pursuing her BA with a minor in theatre. This, of course, is no surprise to anyone who knows Bea and knows that describing her as “talented” would be a massive understatement.

The last memory I have of Bea before she graduated from Laguna Blanca was a performance she gave on the ukulele, singing a song she’d written about a bee leaving its patch of flowers. The fact is, this song was not only a charming metaphor for Ms Tolan (at least, that’s my interpretation) but also a song I would’ve gladly taken over the chronically prescribed “Pomp and Circumstance.” Knowing this, it was a treat to learn some of Bea’s artistic context, having started with animation when she was “only a bairn” (as we say in Scotland), and to catch up on her ambitions since high school graduation.

Dear Montecito,

Beatrice Tolan is a rising senior at Northeastern University in Boston

I spent the majority of my childhood, regrettably, staring at a screen. My computer screen, the television, my phone. Looking back, I wasn’t disinterested in the world around me, but fascinated with all sorts of digital media – digital art, animation, cartoons, video games. In 7th grade, I asked my parents for a drawing tablet and began exploring digital painting. I gravitated towards an artistic field and found myself drawn to Boston; my school, Northeastern, has a program dedicated to helping students secure internships during their college career. So, with all my art supplies and clothes packed, I headed for Boston at the end of the summer of 2016.

I remember the first week of college not by the people I met, or the places I saw, but how viscerally afraid I was. My chest felt heavy; my mouth tasted like metal. Nothing can prepare you for those first few days of college. You’re told to feel excited, charged, and ready for these incredible stories older people tell you, but all you feel is uneasiness, nostalgia, and doubt. Is this really where I’m meant to be? Even when you become familiar with your surroundings – after a few days, and for some, a few months or years – you don’t forget that shock.

Entering your early 20s can be an extremely turbulent time compared to the routine, familiar teen years you leave behind. You’re meeting new people who teach and show you new things, for better or for worse. I often felt I was the only one struggling with the new pace of my life, like I had to sprint in order to “enjoy” what everyone totes as the best years of your life. I’d judge myself for spending less time on my hobbies and more time socializing or studying, trying to keep up. Throughout my years as an underclassman, I occupied my time thinking of ways to make people like me more.

It wasn’t until my third year I finally felt grounded. I’d immersed myself completely into the animation program and made great friends just hanging around the computer lab. All that time I’d spent – my first two years – worrying about where I stood in others’ eyes seemed pointless when I finally felt a part of something productive and positive. Try your hardest not to compare your life – your accomplishments, aspirations, hobbies – to your peers and don’t beat yourself up for the mistakes you make socially or academically. I’m at the end of the finish line now and looking back, it’s wasted time to worry that you’re not living out some idealistic fantasy of what you should be acting like, how you should be spending your time on the weekend, or what you should be studying.

So I’m near the end. I came back to Montecito during quarantine to get away from Boston, one of the hotspots for the virus. There is a serenity in Montecito I haven’t found in any other place. It could be the perfect weather and the occasional light breeze that dampens the sun’s intensity. Don’t get me wrong, East Coast seasons keep it interesting, but stepping off a curb in a blizzard and having your entire calf submerged in slushy city drainage explains some of the judgmental looks I receive when I tell people I wanted to leave California. But leaving Montecito’s lush environment for Boston’s, a cold, windy concrete city, has made me appreciate the variety of life’s offerings and taught me how to overcome the anxiety of unfamiliarity and change.

That’s paying off particularly now. The current events of the world have changed my perception of the future. I’m trying to take each day, each month as it comes and find opportunities to be grateful and happy where I can. The horizon of my college career, where beyond jobs and bills and insurance awaits, is quickly approaching. I’ve broadened my interests past just animating; I love to paint and compose songs. I’ve made fantastic friends and professional connections. I’ve found new ways to appreciate the art of everyday life, too, and continue to find flavor in exploring new forms of art and hobbies.

When I see the future… Ideally, I’ll be working at a job I enjoy, with people I enjoy, in a place I enjoy. That’s all we can ask for, really. (Once you get too specific, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.) The move from Montecito to Boston, one of extreme change and challenges, has helped me process this time and feel grateful for what Montecito is: a luxurious oasis that cannot be replicated or forgotten.




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