Star on the Rise: DeZell Lathon '19

Star on the Rise: DeZell Lathon '19

The talent and creative force within DeZell Lathon were effortlessly compelling to view as his portrayal of Lincoln, part of a brotherly duo, in the Fall 2017 University of San Diego undergraduate play, Topdog Underdog, unfolded on the Studio Theatre stage.

Months before, during orientation week in front of the incoming first-year class, Lathon spoke from the heart and showed a short video of his work for the Changemaker Hub's My Story, an event that promotes empathy and a supportive environment for those in the campus community member who are willing to be vulnerable and share their personal story. This was Lathon’s second time doing a My Story and the first since his sophomore year.

These are just two of the multiple expressions of who Lathon, a 22-year-old Theatre Arts and Performance Studies major set to graduate this May, has shown himself to be.

The Jackson, Miss., native has been connected to many organizations and clubs on campus such as Black Student Union, Student Support Services and USDtv. He’s been a campus tour guide for Student Outreach & Recruitment (SOAR), been part of the Ambassadors Club and, of course, he’s showcased his multiple talents through the theatre program. Last fall, he directed Stop Kiss, a play done through USD’s Student Lab program. He is doing an internship with The Old Globe Theatre and so far in 2019 he’s releasing two short films, Black Butterfly and Black Bird.

Meanwhile, Lathon is a 2018-19 Keck Humanities Research Scholar. He’s currently working on his senior research project, “Integrating Traditional Tribal African Practices into Mainstage Theatre Through Concept of a Musical,” which will conclude with a presentation of his research and designs. He’s also been asked to apply to give a TED-style talk in April that if he does it, is scheduled to take place at a prison near the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I think I found my creative voice here,” Lathon says. “Before I came to USD, I knew I wanted to be a creative person. I knew I wanted to act, direct and write, but I didn’t know where my esthetic lay. Coming here to a liberal arts institution and having to take all of those classes that have nothing to do with my major really opened my mind up to other things.”

He points to classes such as Ethnic Studies’ Race and Globalization with Assistant Professor Josen Diaz, PhD, and East and West Theology with Theology and Religious Studies Professor Lance Nelson, PhD, as eye-openers for his development.

“In my Race and Globalization class we talked about things in there that were like, ‘what? We did what now? This happened?’ We learned about what happens on the other side of the border, in factory towns in Mexico and how people live day to day and work in places where there are safety concerns.”

“With Dr. Nelson, I studied many different religions and it shaped my spirituality. I loved his class," he said. "What it taught me was, and this is my own personal opinion, religions are more closely aligned than what we believe. And, at the root of all of these religions, they all say the same thing: Don’t be mean! Treat people with respect. Be kind. People are, at their core, fundamentally, the same. They may differ in their rituals and practices, but at the core, don’t hurt other people. That’s something we can all get behind.”

His education at USD, from his theatre major roles and training to his involvement on campus in a variety of roles adds up to one terrific college experience.

“I’ve met my best friends here, created my best works here. I’ve really had experiences I never thought I’d have. I know what I need to have in my life to make me happy,” he says. “That’s a gift I can always point back to USD.”

Professors rave about his work and work ethic.

“DeZell possesses that rare combination of talent, creativity, intelligence, and hard-work ethic that has earned him the respect of his professors and peers,” says Associate Professor of Theatre Arts Evelyn Diaz Cruz, MFA. “His final project for my class, Theatre and Community, was easily in the top five percent where he wrote and directed a piece for our culminating evening of staged one-acts. DeZell’s work is intelligent, progressive, and ambitious. At USD, he’s distinguished himself as an actor, director, writer and filmmaker. His work ethic and positive energy are contagious, readily apparent and balanced by his clear vision and commitment to social justice issues.”

Lathon still has a few ends to tie up before he can call himself a USD alumnus, but he’s already spreading the seeds of development for his next steps. He plans to move to Los Angeles to pursue graduate school and an acting career, but his longer-range dreams involve the creation of a worldwide brand called Deeply Rooted, which he plans to build a multi-country international film production company, specializing in diversified media, as well as business lines for clothing, beverages and unisex fragrances.

Lathon is a storyteller, too. “It’s what makes me tick,” he says. He wants to tell stories that bring the underserved and those who have something to share to the forefront.

“What better career can there be than to do something that genuinely makes people feel something, helps them connect with something and makes them feel heard or seen?”

DeZell Lathon is definitely getting ready for his own close-up. He’s ready to reach for the stars.

— Ryan T. Blystone

DeZell Lathon, talented and creative Theatre Arts major has enjoyed his time at USD: “I’ve met my best friends here, created my best works here. I’ve really had experiences I never thought I’d have.DeZell Lathon, talented and creative Theatre Arts major has enjoyed his time at USD: “I’ve met my best friends here, created my best works here. I’ve really had experiences I never thought I’d have."

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