By Diane McMahon
Photography by Christian Lee
On a bleak afternoon in February, as I searched the lunchtime crowd at Panera, a young woman cheerfully said, “I think you’re looking for me.” I turned and had the weird sensation that the restaurant lights had gotten brighter. There was a heightened TGIF energy in the atmosphere, but no one was more effervescent or radiant than Anna Ashdown.
We found a table and sat down. Even as I asked my initial questions and listened to Anna’s responses, my inner voice was jabbering, “If there were a contest for “Best Smile” (with sub-categories for “Best Lips” and “Best Teeth”) this young lady would win hands down.” Anna is far more than a pretty face, she is a hard-working high school senior with definite life goals. She is a young woman with passion and a pragmatic plan that makes success something she’ll likely achieve. She is a bubbly radiant presence with an internal guidance system that seems wise beyond her years.
Since her junior year, Anna has been attending both Hilton Head High School and Academy for Career Excellence (ACE) on alternate days. When she graduates this spring, she will be certified and licensed as an esthetician by the state of South Carolina. She hopes to utilize this skill to help support herself when she goes to Los Angeles this summer to pursue her life dream of being a professional actor.
This dream gained shape and substance this past summer when she was selected to compete with 700 other internationally recognized aspiring actors in the iPop International Presentation of Performers and won third place as Best Actress. During the competition, she was assigned a personal acting coach, Candis Henderson, with whom she developed a close personal and professional friendship. She continues to Skype with her every Tuesday and considers her a future support when she is in LA.
That doesn’t stop Anna with practical financial planning. Already, she has a part-time job at FACES DaySpa the Village at Wexford on Hilton Head. Last summer she had four jobs. She continues to provide nanny services and attend festivals and private parties to provide face painting. She has a lead role in a play that takes her to Fayetteville, N.C. every other Saturday. She has an acting coach in Los Angeles with whom she Skypes every Tuesday. She laughs and tells me, “I have to map out sleeping time.” When I asked about eating, she laughed again, “Oh that’s what I do all the time, while I’m doing something else.”
Anna is not all work. She describes her social life as broad. She then grins, “A lot of people think I’m too much.” When I ask what she means, she says, “If someone is talking really loud at Walmart, my friends know it’s me.” She loves to get “down to dance.” She says, “We don’t need music. Life is our music.” Right now she is “proud to be single.” She admits to some negative relationships in the past. Her closest friend is Maisie Gayken. They know each other’s minds. Anna remarks, “God put her in front of me.”
Anna was born and raised in Hilton Head. Her father came to the island when he was 16 and her mother when she was 22. They met, married and stayed. Anna says her younger brother Eric is her best friend. She remembers that her mother kept her makeup in toolboxes, which Anna couldn’t invade, so she settled for playing with her jewelry. Her father, a former firefighter and now a head nurse at Hilton Head Hospital, got her interested in sports. She says, “From the beginning I was a girlie-girl in some ways, but also have a tomboy side.”
God plays a crucial role in Anna’s life. Her relationship with Him provides her ultimate support and guidance. She also credits her parents with giving her the foundation to know who she is and what she wants. “They always made me go after the things I wanted. They encouraged me to work hard for it. I know their support helps me stay grounded.”
Everything Anna says is spoken with enthusiasm and fervor. She gesticulates with her hands and arms and speaks with her whole face. “I’m excited about life and everything! I’ll be happy no matter what I do.” She then enthuses, “Oh my mom and I have developed this amazing glitter lipstick that doesn’t rub off.” Even without glitter lipstick, Anna is bedazzling.
Car glamour: Anna says she was the first person to put eyelashes on her car’s headlights; now it has bedazzles on the back.
Favorite quiet time: Lying in an Eno (hammock) and talking to Maisie.
Creative outlets: She loves to journal, write scenes and monologues she can perform and doodle.
Most memorable childhood quote: Her mother saying, “That’s the man ripping you off."