Former Alvin Ailey dancer Tina Williams always knew she could do anything, after all that’s exactly what she was told growing up. Her two hearing-impaired parents work at the United Nations in New York City so Williams was exposed to the world through their eyes.

After 11 years as a dancer with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in New York, Williams changed career direction, a feat many find intimidating.

Today at 38, she’s a graduate of Johnson & Wales University’s North Miami Campus with a Bachelor of Science in Travel-Tourism & Hospitality Management. Chosen by faculty and staff, Williams served as the university’s commencement speaker on May 24 as the university celebrated its centennial. She addressed 354 graduating students, 81 of whom were from the College of Hospitality.

“This is a highly competitive process in which speeches are evaluated by administrators and faculty on a number of criteria, including universal message, delivery and coherency. Ultimately, the committee felt Tina had the strongest message and story,” said Jordan Fickess, executive administrator.

Once given the opportunity to travel with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, Williams caught the travel bug. She found herself compiling itineraries and travel packages for dance friends. Soon, she realized immersing herself in myriad of cultures would satisfy her more than dance ever could. With this knowledge, Williams began looking into a career in hospitality and tourism.

With a blank résumé in hospitality, Williams knew that she needed to build practical work experience in the industry. Johnson & Wales University placed an emphasis on experiential work and its location in South Florida proved the ideal setting for her chosen path, she said.

“I really understood the psychology of customers and team effort, which I learned from years of dancing. The introduction into the industry came from JWU,” Williams said.

With the help of Dr. Samer Hassan, a JWU professor, Williams was introduced to hotel executive Andreas Ioannou and secured a job as a front desk clerk at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort. Within six months she was promoted to manager. With the help of her classes at JWU and her experience working for Hilton, Williams learned the ropes of the industry. It was not a seamless transition, but her background in dance proved more helpful than she imagined, she said. In January, she was offered a full-time position as an Owner Relations manager.

In her closing of her address, Williams urged the graduating class: “My fellow graduates I would like to remind you that the world is our stage … before going on stage in the theater it is customary to wish a performer “Merde.” In theater, this loosely translates into “go out there and give them everything you have … leave your heart and soul on the stage,” in other words “wield your machete”… this will confirm your success!”