Major Exploration – Alumni Profiles


Hadrian Mendoza ’96 – Business Administration

by Laura Moyer

Business administration seemed sensible, and Hadrian Mendoza ’96 worked hard to fulfill major requirements in his first three years at Mary Washington. Then came senior year, with only electives left to take.

Mendoza filled his schedule with drawing, painting, and poetry – and a ceramics class that would prove life-changing.

Working with clay lit up Mendoza’s brain like nothing had before. “It’s so natural,” Mendoza thought. “You take dirt, you use fire, and then you have a permanent object. How awesome is that?”


Clay and fire lured Hadrian Mendoza off a conventional business administration path and into a career as a ceramic artist.

After two semesters, he asked Lorene Nickel, now a professor emerita of art, what it would take to make a living as a potter. Was it even possible?

Her answer, he remembers, was something an earnest business major had to consider seriously: It was possible, and he could be good at it. But it might not ever be lucrative.

Mendoza had gotten into culinary school, but he never even sent a deposit. A year at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., wasn’t the right fit, either.

Instead, he returned to the Philippines, where he was born and still had family. He served a yearlong apprenticeship with potter Jon Pettyjohn in the rural province of Laguna, in the mountains south of Manila.

Then he, Pettyjohn, and Pettyjohn’s wife, Tessy, opened a pottery school that drew students from all over the Philippines. Over several years, Mendoza taught others as he experimented with pottery forms, kilns, and glazes.

He embraced the challenge of large, structurally complicated pieces that blend artistry and physics. Works in his Balance series spin aloft from small bases, seeming to defy gravity.

He evoked his heritage with works inspired by the Manunggul Jar, a burial jar dating to 890-710 B.C. that was excavated intact from the Philippines’ Tabon Caves and is considered a national treasure.

The ancient jar held worldly goods that the deceased would take to the afterlife, but Mendoza’s most recent Manunggul series sculpture is hollow in the center, reflecting his belief that the dead don’t need possessions.

“It’s not the material things that set you up,” he said. “It’s the way you live your life.”

Those aren’t empty words for Mendoza. In 2009, he and wife Kim moved with their two daughters to Fairfax County, near relatives and Kim’s job at the World Bank in Washington. It was good for the family but humbling for Mendoza, who left his house, his studio, and a comfortable reputation as one of the top ceramic artists in Southeast Asia. Here, as just another unknown potter, he had to re-establish his art roots.

Now he teaches, creates, and sells his work at the Workhouse Center for the Arts in Lorton, and he’s making connections with local artists and gallery owners. His works can be seen online at

He’s found a balance, too, between his business administration major and artistic sides. In 2014, he said, he had his best year financially in 19 years doing pottery, and he hopes to outdo that this year.

“I make things to make a living,” he said. “But I make it first with my heart.”

Kelly Murphy ’01 – Religion

by Erica Jackson Curran ’07

Kelly Murphy ’01 may be an unofficial expert on zombies, but in the event of a zombie apocalypse she’d probably be one of the first people to get infected. “I’ve often joked with my students that the likelihood of a biblical studies scholar surviving the initial zombie outbreak is pretty slim,” she said.

Mary Washington’s 2001 Outstanding Graduate in Religion now teaches biblical studies at Central Michigan University, where her course From Revelation to the Walking Dead is an unqualified hit. The course encourages students to take a deeper look at apocalyptic themes in biblical texts, literature, and pop culture.

Assistant Professor Kelly Murphy teaches the popular class From Revelation to the Walking Dead at Central Michigan University.

Assistant Professor Kelly Murphy teaches the popular class From Revelation to the Walking Dead at Central Michigan University.

“Adding zombies to a class about ancient apocalyptic literature is a kind of shameless trick designed to get students to sign up for a class that they might not otherwise be drawn to take,” Murphy admits. “Many students don’t know what the academic study of the biblical texts entails, so they don’t realize how exciting it can be.”

So what exactly do you study in a course that blends religion with the undead? A typical class might include “survivor exercises” such as analyzing films, building a board game that teaches the historical significance of the book of Revelation, or working with ancient texts and contemporary interpretations of them. Murphy encourages her students to question why and how writers throughout history have depicted the apocalypse, how we imagine people might react to such an event, and what zombies represent in books and movies.

“Zombies and other monsters tell us about ourselves – especially what we fear,” Murphy said. “But additionally, zombies, ancient apocalyptic texts, and the study of religion more generally allow us to wrestle with big questions: What does it mean to be human? What is the nature of suffering? What does it mean to be good or evil?”

Murphy’s own passion for religious studies began at Mary Washington’s Department of Classics, Philosophy, and Religion, where her most influential teachers included professors of religion James Goehring, Mehdi Aminrazavi, and David Cain, emeritus. “They inspired me on so many levels, from thinking about the problem of suffering and evil, to unraveling the history of the composition of the biblical texts, to reading scholars like Soren Kierkegaard and Al-Ghazzali,” she said, “which helped me to think about different religious contexts and different theologies and ways of understanding the world.”

Today, Murphy hopes to pass those lessons on to her own students, whether they’ll one day be faced with an apocalypse or something even more frightening. “I do think we have more pressing, real-world concerns to think about – like the environment, for example,” she said. “Our fears concerning those kinds of significant social issues get reflected and deflected into the narratives we see on television, movie screens, and literature. So I suppose my plan is to try to teach students to see these big issues as they’re hidden within our fictional stories.”

Natalie Joy Johnson ’00 – Theatre & Dance


Natalie Joy Johnson

Natalie Joy Johnson ’00 shares some traits with her self-titled character in Natalie Joy Johnson: Full Bush, an adults-only show about a down-on-her-luck woman who is looking for love everywhere except where she’ll find it – deep within herself.

The performance, described as “riveting” and “heart-stopping,” earned a 2013 New York Musical Theatre Festival Award for Excellence for outstanding individual performance.

The character “is a bit more grand…boozy…and over the top than I am,” Johnson told “That’s saying a lot.”

The Mary Washington theater major, one of Time Out New York’s Top-10 Downtown Divas, might be best known for her two roles in Legally Blonde – on Broadway as high-strung law student Enid Hoopes and on the national tour as divorced manicurist Paulette.

The Village Voice called her weekly performance at Brooklyn’s Therapy bar “zingy…and fun…Bette Midler meets Courtney Love.” Her first self-titled piece, Natalie Joy Johnson Is Relentless, was named a Top-10 cabaret. Her latest creation, Full Bush, mixes her own real-life moments with ones she completely made up, Johnson told

“I’ll never tell which.”

Natalie is currently appearing on Broadway as Pat in the Tony Award-winning show Kinky Boots.


Stories taken from The University of Mary Washington Magazine.