Undergraduate Blog
Student Life

Yasaar Ellis (McIntire ’24): A Journey Through Adversity, Broadway, and Business

Ellis’ story is a source of hope and a testament to the indomitable human spirit.

Yasaar Ellis

Fourth-year McIntire student Yasaar Ellis’ journey from Houston, TX, to Charlottesville, VA, is not merely a physical transition from the sweltering heat of his hometown to the more temperate climate of the Commonwealth. His story weaves through themes of resilience and visionary ambitions and is one of profound personal growth, community engagement, and the relentless pursuit of impactful dreams.

For Ellis, choosing to step beyond the familiar confines of the Texas higher education system was serendipitous. In high school, he was selected to receive The Posse Foundation leadership scholarship, which recognizes students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential.

This full-tuition scholarship, aimed at students who might be overlooked by traditional college selection processes, was Ellis’ gateway to UVA—a place that had been off his radar. “At the time, the Posse scholarship partnered mainly with small liberal arts colleges, and I knew I wanted a full university experience. UVA seemed like a great option even though I’d never even been to the state,” he recalls.

Despite the daunting prospect of moving away from home, Ellis’ adventurous spirit was undeterred. “It’s funny because when I got the scholarship, my mom posted on Facebook about me. One of her cousins reached out and told my mom that her son was on the same scholarship at UVA. He was in his third year, so I had a second cousin at UVA when I was a first-year.” This unexpected familial connection provided Ellis with a semblance of home, a reminder that sometimes, the world is smaller and more interconnected than we think.

Bouncing Back from Challenges

Central to Ellis’ story is his battle with cancer at the age of 13. It was a life-altering experience that shaped his worldview and infused his life with a deep sense of purpose. His fight against lymphoma was a communal endeavor, supported by family, friends, and caregivers.

Yasaar Ellis

“It was a transformative experience for me. I was wrapping up eighth grade and preparing to make the transition to high school when I got the life-changing news,” he says. “Both of my parents were working, so my grandmother stepped in and took care of me when they weren’t home. I also had a lot of friends who reached out and made an effort to be in contact with me. It was the first time in my life I had a need for community to uplift me.”

Emerging from his health crisis with a newfound appreciation for life and community, Ellis embarked on a mission to give back. He aspires to establish a nonprofit that serves families affected by cancer, drawing on his personal journey to offer support and hope to others facing similar battles. While ambitious, it is a natural extension on his life’s experiences, embodying his belief in the power of community and the transformative potential of personal challenges.

“Looking back on that time, I now understand how powerful it is to show up for others and how, when you have a sense of community, terrible situations can be tolerable,” he says. “I see a parallel between my fight against cancer and honestly, just trying to survive at college during COVID. I’ve learned to be intentional about making the best out of opportunities I’ve been given. With UVA, I took a leap of faith, and it’s a blessing I don’t want to take for granted.” 

Persevering During a Pandemic

The opportunity to attend UVA catapulted him into an environment starkly different from anything he had known. Coupled with the added stressors of navigating college at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ellis was challenged to adapt, engage, and eventually thrive despite so many uncertainties.

“As students, we needed to get creative even though we had never met in person,” he explains. “We had a lot of group chats among students who wanted to get to know each other. I really tried to be present and intentional with keeping up those relationships.”

Like many college students, Ellis chose to study virtually and remain home in Houston. Even with a rigorous course load, “I made the mistake of scheduling my classes back to back on the same days like in high school, so I sat on Zoom for many consecutive hours,” he recalls. But the experience had the unexpected upside of bringing him closer to his family, also working from home.

“Whenever I had a break, I would go into my mom’s office and spend 15 minutes catching up with her, sharing about the people I met and collaborated with or the things I was learning about,” he says.

Upon his arrival on Grounds in the spring, Ellis was met with the challenges typical of any first-year student, compounded by the distance from home and the initial lack of a local support network. However, it wasn’t long before he began to forge his path, finding solace and strength in the communities he built and joined. From the Black Student Alliance (BSA) to the Black Commerce Student Network, Ellis actively sought out spaces where he felt represented and supported.

“My first year was crafted around developing a foundation of people who I was familiar with and felt comfortable sharing space with so I could grow at the University,” he says. “I joined BSA and the Black Commerce Student Network to meet other Black students, which introduced me to McIntire. After doing my research, I realized that Comm was for me, so I took a leap of faith and applied.”

Once at McIntire, Ellis found support through his Integrated Core team. The collaborative experience highlighted the importance of teamwork and the strength of communal efforts to overcome academic and personal challenges—with a little humor.

“I’ll be honest—we spent a lot of time joking around, but once we settled down and got to work, I learned that it was attainable to pull off a large, quality project that could be something I would be expected to do in the business world,” he says.

Passionate Pursuits

In the short term, Ellis’ professional aspirations are to work in management consulting and learn about different industries. But long term, he envisions his career extending beyond the confines of a traditional business setting.

He dreams of bridging the gap between the world of commerce and the arts, aiming to harness the transformative power of performance art to uplift those in need. He sees his passion for theater as a vehicle for change and a means to empower and educate through the universal language of performance.

“From kindergarten to all through high school, I was involved in theater, and it’s something I’ve always been passionate about,” he explains. “I want to be able to open up my own theater, either a company or a program, where we would go into low-income neighborhoods and work with at-risk kids using arts as a means to teach leadership skills, public speaking, and collaboration.”

Ellis plans to raise capital to realize this vision and hopes to give the opportunity to others to discover the intersection between the two disciplines. “I see a lot of similarities between the skills required in the arts and in business, and I attribute a lot of my personal business skills to my background in the arts,” he says.

Ellis’ story is a source of hope and a testament to the indomitable human spirit. From his home in Houston to the academic halls of UVA, his journey reflects growth, tenacity, and a desire to serve a greater good. As he looks to the future, he stands as an inspiration and as a reminder of the power of community, the importance of perseverance, and the boundless potential of an individual dedicated to service.

Find out about all the exciting things happening in the McIntire community. Visit our news page for the latest updates.

More News