Cabrillo High School graduate Je'Mae Thomas is reflecting back on a high school career partially spent on the theater stage as she contemplates a future in film.

"I didn't start auditioning until last year, and I wish I would have done it as soon as they had their first play my freshman year," said Thomas, 17. 

She admits that although acting may not be her "thing," making people laugh is.

"It's just fun to laugh with people, and make other people laugh," she said, characterizing her humor as more dry and sarcastic.

Thomas, who on June 10 graduated alongside 277 seniors, was selected by Cabrillo High School counselor Angie Diaz as a standout student for her perseverance and high academic achievements.

Born with a rare condition — oculocutaneous albinism — which causes a visual impairment and is estimated to affect 1 in 20,000 people worldwide in various ethnic groups and geographical regions, Thomas also must protect her skin from the sun as it lacks melanin, the protective pigment which blocks UV radiation from damaging the skin.

Diaz said Thomas is the type of student "that doesn't let anything get in her way."

Despite any daily challenges, Thomas said she considers the pandemic the biggest obstacle she faced in all her high school years.

"Before the pandemic, during my junior year, I finally auditioned, and then school shut down," Thomas recalled.

The timing couldn't have been more off.

Just as Thomas had decided to audition in spite of being "quiet and nervous," her theater group's new production "All Shook Up" that featured music by Elvis Presley, was stopped after only one performance.

Thomas said it had been the first time since the seventh grade that she had been on stage and encourages other high schoolers to get involved without delay.

"Do all that you can and just have fun," she said. "Don't be too pressured to do anything you don't want to do, but try to put yourself out there and have fun because if you don't, you'll probably regret it." 

The straight-A student and self-proclaimed cinephile plans to make the leap to a four-year university to study film after first finishing up her general education at Hancock College.

"I don't know where yet, but my dream school is [to attend] USC because they have a really good film program," Thomas said. "Spike Lee went there."

More than anything, she envisions herself as more of a film director since getting the opportunity to direct a few scenes during her junior year in theater.

"My teacher also said I should consider directing," she added. "If I like something, I tend stick with it."

Lisa André covers lifestyles and local news for Santa Ynez Valley News and Lompoc Record.