Composer-lyricist and writer Julia Riew '17 came back to Burroughs in May 2022 to speak about her meteoric rise in the world of musical theatre.
A Korean American, Julia is best known for her viral TikTok musical Dive (previously Shimcheong: A Folktale), which has drawn huge international support online and in the news for asking the question, "What would a Korean Disney princess look like?" Dive is currently being developed for the American Repertory Theater.
Julia returned to campus in conjunction with this year's middle school play, Thumbelina: A Little Musical, which she wrote during the summer before her junior year of college. She spoke to students in assembly on Friday, May 12, about her lifelong love of theatre and storytelling, her favorite musical (Legally Blonde), and her passion for increasing Asian representation through her work. She also spoke about the Burroughs teachers — notably, Mr. Carter and Mr. Estes from the Music Department — who encouraged her love of composing.
"I truly think that this place is where I went from just being a kid who was writing on looseleaf paper to having a real dream," she said.
Julia said that as a teenager, she'd never even heard of a female musical composer — let alone an Asian American one — and that as a young writer, she didn't consider putting her own culture or her own face into the narrative.
"As kids, we build our understanding of the world based on what we see," she said. "We build our understanding of who we can be based on what we see people like us doing."
After graduating from Burroughs, Julia headed off to Harvard. There, her passion for storytelling through song only grew. She sought out Asian-American writing partners, co-founded the Harvard College Asian Student Arts Project (ASAP), and secured a summer writing gig at American Repertory Theater.
In January 2022, Julia posted a short video to TikTok performing a song from Dive, the musical she wrote as her senior thesis project. The video went viral, and messages from producers, celebrities, and grateful Korean-American parents started to pour in. Since then, she has been named the 2022 Fred Ebb Award winner, Playbill's Featured Songwriter of the Month, a Woman to Watch on Broadway, and the recipient of the 2022 Harvardwood Artist Launch Fellowship under the mentorship of composer Laurence O'Keefe (Legally Blonde, Heathers).
Through it all, Julia has continued to work towards her goals of increasing representation and helping to spread intercultural empathy across generations.
"Being young is really hard," Julia said. "It's easy to feel lost, especially at a time when you're only just discovering who you are.
"If you don't see a community out there for you, then build one of your own. If you haven't heard your story yet, then tell it. If you can't find a role model who looks like you in your dream industry, then maybe you can be the first. So if you're looking for a sign to get up and do the thing you've always been dreaming about but have been too afraid to try, this is your sign. This is me telling you to take the dive."
You can watch Julia's full assembly remarks below, or click here for an interview with Julia from KSDK about her work and her return to Burroughs. Julia also spoke to members of the greater Burroughs community on Wednesday, May 10.
Photos by Mr. Newman (Fine Arts) and Steven Thayer '25.