Gabrielle Billiot

Always looking on the Brightside

In our society, there’s a well-known tradition that transcends a lot of barriers between people. In many ways, it’s the glue that holds the fabric of this nation together. And incidentally, it’s especially evident at wedding receptions and karaoke bars.

The tradition is this: if you hear “Mr. Brightside” playing, you sing along. You might even dance or play air guitar if you’re in the right setting. At the very least, your eyes will light up with a spark of recognition and you’ll nod your head along vehemently.

The popularity of this song by The Killers is widespread, but no one loves it more than Gabrielle Billiot. No, really. You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who is more of a “Mr. Brightside” fan than Gabby.

But of course, there’s much more to 26 year-old Gabrielle than her love of The Killers.

She’s a graduate student who is passionate about helping others achieve higher education.

She’s a skilled graphic designer who describes herself as “almost like a freelancer, but not enough that I can write it off on my taxes.”

She’s a social butterfly.

She’s a new yogi.

She’s a Tennessee native who loves the Appalachian Trail, the Great Smoky Mountains, and Watauga Lake.

She’s a Louisiana resident who adores the food in NOLA.

She’s a live-music fanatic who thrives on festivals and concerts.

After years of hard work, she’s living a life that matches her vibrant, eclectic personality. In fact, you might say that she’s been “COMIN OUT OF HER CAGE AND SHE’S BEEN DOING JUST FINE.” 😏😉




Radiography, sports, and entertainment (oh my!)

At East Tennessee State University, Gabrielle wanted to be involved with anything she “could weasel her way into.”

“I spent most of my years being a part of the official welcoming committee at ETSU (Preview and Orientation Leaders), yelling at women to join a sorority or telling you why my sorority was the best, and participating in student government. Also, for some reason, higher authorities thought it was a good idea for me to be on university committees – my guess is because I’m so opinionated about everything – so I did that too!”

Early in her undergraduate years, Gabby realized the downside of being passionate about many things: it makes career decisions more difficult.

Originally, she aspired to be an x-ray technician.

“I made it one day in the program and jumped ship,” Gabrielle laughed. “After I left the radiography program, I was pretty lost; I had no direction.”

But it wasn’t long before Gabby realized that she had a penchant for event planning, and her involvement in planning university concerts and attending the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta inspired her to learn about sports management and entertainment marketing.

“What drew me to the field was attending all the Chick-Fil-A Bowl fan events; how all the pieces of a puzzle come together to produce a large event like that,” Gabby said. “After that game, I talked to some of the faculty in the Sport Management Department at ETSU about changing my major, they believed it was a better fit for me if I majored in public relations and minored in sport management. So that’s what I did.”

Gabby loved learning about this field. But another opportunity came along that was even better suited to her talent and interests.

After landing the lead concert planning role for ETSU’s major semester concert, Gabby realized that live-entertainment marketing was a great blend of her passion for music and her skills in planning and PR. While still enrolled at ETSU, Gabrielle obtained an internship with Hangout Music Festival, as well as independent contractor work with other festivals in northeast Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and western North Carolina.




Goodbye, ETSU. Hello, ETSU.

She came, she saw, she conquered ETSU. She walked the stage with her head held high and received her diploma. And as soon as she had, she began relentlessly applying for jobs.

Gabby took the first opportunity that came her way: a position as event coordinator at the school she had just graduated.

“This job was a lot different than anything I had done before,” Gabby said. “I was coordinating a lot of private and small events – think dinners, receptions, and luncheons.”

Gabrielle said that she welcomed the challenge of being forced from her comfort zone.

“Through this job, I was exposed to the higher education realm through an employee perspective. I loved the college atmosphere and the collaboration that comes with it. I discovered that it really takes a village to run a university and I thrived off of it.”

Gabrielle poses on campus at ETSU

Gabby poses in front of the ETSU bell tower and Burgin Dossett Hall, the administrative building where she would work for two years after graduation.


🎶”But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…”🎶

Two years passed. Gabby excelled as an event coordinator at ETSU, but she still couldn’t help but think of this job as just a stepping stone to something else.

This job paid the bills, and Gabby still worked in live entertainment on the side, often using her vacation and sick days to go work music festivals. But even that work was getting old.

“Don’t get me wrong, the perks were great, but it wasn’t fulfilling,” Gabby clarified. “I needed something more than what I was getting, but I wasn’t sure what.”

She found the answer in discussions with mentors from her undergraduate days: a career in higher education. After all, she loved the college environment both when she was a student and a campus staff member; but the college event-planning route wasn’t the path she felt led to take.

“I started looking at jobs in higher ed, but 95% of them required a master’s degree,” she said. “So I made a decision at that point to go to grad school. Now that I am finished with a year of coursework, am a graduate assistant, and have had internship experience in grad school, I know I’ve found what I was looking for.”



Back to #studentlife

It was in early February that Gabrielle began looking for grad schools with rolling enrollment. Her search led her to a degree program in Educational Leadership and Higher Education Admission at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, LA. It wasn’t the first that Gabby had heard about Nicholls, since family members had attended Nicholls in the past.

“Coincidentally, I was going to be in that area for Mardi Gras the next week,” Gabby said. “I sent an email to one of the associate professors of the program and I was able to set up a meeting with him and the Director of Admissions. When we met, we hit it off. During that same meeting I was granted acceptance into the program and was guaranteed a graduate assistantship that would pay for my school entirely. I didn’t need to look any further. My decision was made.”

Since enrolling at Nicholls, Gabrielle has had a positive experience with her graduate assistant position.

“The department I work in is fantastic,” Gabby said. “My supervisor and I work synchronously and cohesively; there is a level of trust that I have never experienced before. My students are inspiring leaders that are cultivating a new campus culture that makes Nicholls an exciting place to be; and it’s a super fun work environment.”

On the other hand, Gabrielle has been frustrated with some of her academic experiences.

“My grades are good – holla for 3.45 GPA after taking 12 hours both semesters – but trying to communicate with professors has been upsetting,” she said. “I have had a professor enter an incorrect grade and had to fight for them to change it; I’ve had a professor wait 3 weeks to respond to an email; and upsettingly, I don’t feel like I’m learning anything from my courses. I could go on and on about how let down and disappointed I have been with the academic side of my grad school experience.”

Nevertheless, Gabrielle is committed to finishing her degree strong.

“I guess the best way to describe it would be that I am gaining valuable experience: experience on what to do and what not to do. At the end of the day, I will have my M.Ed and that’s the most important thing.”




Relationships and redemption

One striking thing about Gabrielle and her journey is the way she interacts with people. On a personal level, she’s a joyous person who makes people feel heard and valued. Professionally, she’s a natural at seeking guidance from mentors and peers. And as you can see from her story, it’s paid off.

“Find your tribe,” Gabby advised. “Find the people who bring out the best in you; your most true and authentic you.”

“These are the people that will be there to study with you at all hours of the night; who will go get coffee or food when you have crammed to the breaking point for a test and it’s 3:00 in the morning; who will drag you out of your dorm or apartment to go out and have fun on a Thursday night after you’ve done all your work; who will slide down an ice and snow-covered parking lot on a greased cookie sheet to go get McDonalds because your cars won’t move (true story); who will be your personal cheerleaders when you are needing that extra motivation boost for a class. Find these people, because they will bring out the best in you and believe in you even when you might not believe in yourself.”


Gabby shared a story from her undergrad days about how a professor went above and beyond to give her motivation.

“My junior year, I had taken a class with a certain professor and didn’t do well,” she recounted. “It was a passing grade, but it was definitely not the quality of work that I was capable of producing.”

A year later, Gabrielle had to take her senior capstone class with this same professor. On the first day of class, the professor pulled Gabby to the side and said: “I like you. I like you a lot. You’ve got a cool style, but you cannot half-ass this class. It’s either an A or an F. Don’t let me down.”

“Those words have been forever engraved in my head,” said Gabby. “This professor is a PR and advertising diva, a female version of a hustla, a complete and total badass, and someone I really admired. This class was my shot at redemption.”

And redeem herself she did.  On the last day of class, the professor walked up to Gabby and gave her an envelope without saying anything.

“Inside was a copy of my final grade – which was an A – and a note that said ‘I’m proud of you, kid’ with her initials signed at the bottom. I still have this note and that class was 4 years ago. It’s a constant reminder that grace and redemption exist, and to work your ass off even if the odds are stacked against you.”



“Your journey is YOUR journey.”

“Gabby, tell me how to get to Knoxville.”

Gabby was in the midst of a conversation with a mentor. Gabrielle wasn’t quite sure how to react to this out-of-the-blue question, so she went along with it.

“Well, you can hop on to I-26 towards Kingsport, take the I-81 exit towards Knoxville which changes to I-40 and that leads you straight to Knoxville.”

“Are there any other ways?”

“Well. Yeah, but it will take you longer.”

“Tell me.”

“You can take 11-E towards Greeneville and then get on I-81, which leads to I-40, then Knoxville.”

“Any other ways?”

“Yeah, but it’s longer than that the last road.”

“You don’t have to tell me the directions. What’s important that there are multiple ways to get to Knoxville. Some ways are shorter than others. Some ways are longer than others. What matters is that you take your journey and you get to your destination.”

Gabby never forgot that conversation. “It’s a reminder that your journey is exactly that – YOUR JOURNEY. Your journey may take twists and turns, but ultimately you will get to your destination in your own time. Do not compare your journey to your ‘successful friend’ – we all have one.”

Gabby added, “Your journey is your journey and you cannot measure your own success to that of someone else. Your time will come. There are no rules that say you have to do this or that by a certain age. Life is not a race or a competition. Comparison is the thief of joy and deteriorates your working spirit.”

Gabby’s journey has been an adventurous one so far, and she has so many great things to still accomplish. She aspires to get her PhD or EdD in Educational Leadership and lead a college access program that serves rural high school students and helps them navigate the college transition process.

Gabby’s rolodex of diverse experiences has taught her that no position – no job, no major, no relationship – is a waste.

“Everything can relate to something; it just takes a creative mind to translate and communicate that.”



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