Ithaca College acting major Jharrel Jerome (class of '19) made his film debut in one of the 2016's most acclaimed movies, Barry Jenkins' coming-of-age drama Moonlight. Jerome plays the teenage version of Kevin, the best friend of the lead character Chiron (played at that point by Ashton Sanders). Both characters are struggling with sexual identity, and in a pivotal scene they share a sexual encounter. Jerome grew up in the Bronx. At first interested in being a doctor or lawyer, he was urged to study theater by an aunt who noted his outgoing personality. He took his first acting courses to audition for the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts in New York, where he was accepted. The school regularly attracts talent scouts, and Jerome drew attention in the play "The Laramie Project" and the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical "In the Heights," playing the lead in the latter. His 18th birthday on October 9, 2015 became a fateful day as he sent off an audition tape for "Moonlight" at his manager's urging; it only took a week to find out he'd gotten the part. He took time off from school, flew to Miami and completed his part in only 12 days. His work in the film earned him awards from the Gotham Independent Film Awards and the Independent Spirit Awards.