Name: Toni Rinaldi

Hometown: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Major: Architecture and Art History in the College

Activities: Penn Glee Club, Chair of Carriage Senior Society

Street: You mentioned you’re from Gettysburg, what is it like? 

TR: Both my parents are immigrants to the U.S, so, I’m first generation American. They’re both from large cities. My dad’s from Naples, Italy and my mom’s from Mexico City. They both immigrated to the U.S., and were looking for a more laid-back small-town lifestyle in which to raise their children. They chose Gettysburg. It’s really small. Everyone knows each other. It’s also a really homogenous population. While it’s nice, I think, in theory, there are a lot of factors, being half-Mexican or being immigrants to the community, that sometimes got in the way of fully appreciating it. It was kind of, like, assimilate or be on the outside. That was a major conflict of my youth. But it’s a really small, small town.

Street: Was it difficult to adjust to a city after that environment?

TR: I think that when I was looking for schools to go to, I was really only thinking about schools that interested me in major cities. I knew that I’d seen how small-town living was, and I’d seen what it was like to live in the country. And now I was really interested in exploring myself and my surroundings in a more urban environment. Like I said, a lot of the factors of my own identity were sometimes conflicting with the small-town lifestyle. I am Mexican and I am also gay, so that was not the norm when I was living in Gettysburg. I knew that by coming to Penn or by coming to a more diverse community, that I would find more of a place here.

Street: Why did you end up choosing Penn?

TR: It was a combination of factors. Obviously, it was a great school. It also was the closest of the schools I got into, closest to my family, because it really is just my parents, my younger sister, and me here in the U.S. We wanted to stay at least geographically nearby. I can go down to 30th Street, hop on the train, and within two hours I’m in Harrisburg. One of my parents can come pick me up really easily from there. It’s nice. It’s been really navigable between home and here, which is one of the main reasons Penn ended up being the decision. I am a FGLI student so the financial aid award that I was able to work out with Penn was a really significant decision-making factor. My parents own a small pizza shop, it’s a family-owned business, and I grew up working with them in the pizza shop with my little sister as well. They were pretty stressed about me being the first one to go out to college and having to pay for all of it, especially with tuition at some of these universities that I was interested in. It made sense.

Street: You mentioned you were in the Penn Glee Club. What got you into music?

TR: Both my parents are fans of music, but they’re both completely tone-deaf and have no musical talent whatsoever. Like, I love them for it. I actually wrote my Common App essay on this. I wrote about finding a passion for singing. My dad used to have this cassette tape of Luciano Pavarotti, the opera singer, and my mom used to play Celine Dion on repeat. So, anytime we were in the car, they were always fighting about whether it was going to be Celine Dion or Pavarotti cassettes. They would play both, and I started to just sing along. Then, I was like, I want to do this in a more real way. So, as soon as I was able to, I was probably eight, I joined a choir. It stayed with me forever. I was in every possible choir or singing outlet that I could find when I was younger. I did musical theater. I was so into music that I played the trumpet for ten years, I started taking cello lessons. My sister followed along and she sings. She’s an amazing saxophone, piano, guitarist. She does the whole thing. Both of us were very interested in exploring every avenue that music had to offer.

That’s why when I came to Penn, I knew I needed to be in a choir because that’s where I feel the most at home, singing in this group setting. That’s where I found the Penn Glee Club. It hasn’t been stagnant since then. It’s not like I was like, “I need to find a choir, I need to be happy,” and that’s it. The Glee club, the people and our director, Daniel Carsello, they’re absolutely amazing and really motivated me and pushed me to find ways to step out of my comfort zone. I took solos with the choir, but I also auditioned for the Penn Glee Club Band, which is a smaller subsection of our group. It’s one of the main components of our group. We’re a cover band, so we do pop, funk, R&B, and ska covers. There are singers for that. You get to be the lead vocals for this 12-piece band, and that’s been really nice because we play a lot of really cool events like the Toga Party at the Penn Museum. We won the Band Slam this year. We played at the Exxon Christmas Party. We played for different fraternity and sorority events. It’s been really fun to be a soloist in that respect.

Street: Do you enjoy performing?

TR: Despite having been on stage singing for people for the majority of my life, I still have immense stage fright. I get really really nervous. It’s the whole thing – my palms get sweaty, my chest gets tight, and I think of all the ways it could go wrong. What I like about the choir is that there’s always people around you to help you calm down. By now, everyone knows how I get before a performance, so they are well-equipped to help me come down from it, focus on breathing, and remind me that we’ve been rehearsing for hours and hours and hours, so nothing’s going to go wrong. But they’re always there to help me out.

Street: What are your plans after graduation?

TR: I plan to work at an architecture office, hopefully. I am interested in pursuing a master’s in architecture, so I’ll probably go back to school in one or two years, but I wanted to get some real work experience in first. That’s just been the plan as of late. I’m working on an honors thesis in architecture, and then I’ll apply for work as well this semester. Hopefully, by the time I graduate this semester, I’ll have something fun to work at for a few years.

Lightning Round

Street: Favorite music genre?

TR: Pop.

Street: Celebrity doppelganger?

TR: Whoever played Nevel Papperman in iCarly. That’s me.

Street: Favorite Penn Class?

TR: ARCH 302 with Eric Bellin. Architecture is such a tight-knit community: all my studio mates are my second set of best friends. They’re like my family. And Eric was absolutely astounding as an instructor and as a design inspiration. He really knew how to guide us to be astounding. So, I love him.

Street: Starbucks coffee order?

TR: Venti iced coffee with room for milk.

Street: There are two types of people at Penn…

TR: Complex and complicated.


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