Chicago Academy For The Arts’ Student-Run AIDS Benefit Features Performers From Across The Arts

Arayah Lyte – Senior Choreographed Dance Concert 2019

The Chicago Academy for the Arts has hosted a student-run AIDS Benefit for over 20 years. Founded by songwriter Justin Tranter, an alumnus of the Academy, this year’s benefit is directed by current student actress Grania McKirdie.

Students from across the arts will perform including many of the dancers featured below. All photos are by Thomas Mohr Photography.

The following article was originally published on The Chicago Academy for the Arts’ website.

Lillian Yokom and Grania McKirdie – 2018 AIDS Benefit

Grania McKirdie and The Chicago Academy for the Arts AIDS Benefit

Grania McKirdie knows the value of hard work.

The 17-year-old Oak Lawn resident and senior at The Chicago Academy for the Arts has had that mantra installed in her virtually from birth.

McKirdie’s father, Scott, is a plumber; her mother, Katie, is activities director at a senior facility and a school bus driver for St. Rita High School.

Grania caddies several times a week at Beverly Country Club. Much of the money she earns goes back to her parents; a great deal also is used to take out her five other siblings.

“I know that if my life journey hasn’t been what it has been so far, I would not be where I am today,” said Grania, who is director of the upcoming AIDS Benefit at The Academy.

Isaiah Day – 2018 AIDS Benefit

“It makes you want to work hard and it makes you grateful for all the things you do have.”

Each year, Academy students produce and perform in a benefit show to support HIV/AIDS research. The 23rd Annual AIDS Benefit will take place Sept. 20-21 at The Academy, 1010 W. Chicago Ave. in Chicago’s River West neighborhood.

Students from each department will present new work, under the direction and curation of student leadership. All proceeds after costs go to The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, with a goal of raising $10,000.

“It’s kind of like our Homecoming,” McKirdie said. “And it’s my favorite part of being at The Academy. If kids aren’t in the show, they’re coming with their friends, and it’s a really fun event.”

Julia Foley – Senior Choreographed Dance Concert 2019

Since its beginning in 1997, the AIDS Benefit has become one of the staples of The Academy community. Twenty-one years ago, Musical Theatre Department alum, and now hit songwriter Justin Tranter (Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” Fall Out Boy’s “Centuries”) put together a student-run variety show that could help raise awareness and advocacy for HIV/AIDS.

Briley Boersma – Icons of Choreography Concert 2019

His vision was to create an entirely student-run show without faculty direction or oversight, but also one that could benefit a great cause.

In the years since the event’s inception, Academy students have raised tens of thousands of dollars for AIDS research, support, care and organizations.

Grania has four younger siblings – and the children range from age 19 to 9 – so has succeeded because of hard work.

“My mom was always raising a younger child, so she was never going to hold our hand,” said Grania, who calls her mom “the real-life Wonder Woman”.

Jackson Bradford – Icons of Choreography Concert 2019

Grania also plays the violin and cello, and won a children’s category and was named “Golden Rose” in a South Side Irish Queen contest.

Grania, a theatre major at The Academy, plans to major in the same discipline in college. She has also helped direct a few professional performances in Chicago.

She hopes to earn an Evans Scholarship (a distinguished scholarship for caddies), which would pay for full tuition in college.

“It’s all about hard work, respect and just determination – if you want something done, you can do it for yourself, and you know no one is going to stop you,” she said.

For more information on the AIDS Benefit, visit:

Article Courtesy Of: The Chicago Academy for the Arts


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