From the moment she nailed her first high note, Gaby Yidi has aspired to entertain.
It was just three years ago that the colorful Miamian with the velvet voice and dreams of Diana Ross was wowing fellow college students and contest judges alike with her soulful rendition of ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ – a performance that would garner her Florida International University’s top singing prize, the Golden Idol, and had her seemingly fated for a future of flower-festooned stages and sold-out marquees.
But a lot can change over the course of a college career. And for Yidi, who’d begun school as a theater major, a chance exposure to a class in hospitality administration soon had her thinking about ‘entertaining’ in an entirely new light. “I’d been fortunate enough to do some traveling with my family while growing up, and so was always interested in the idea of exploring cultures and creating unique experiences for others,” she says. “I remember one day in class we were talking about the airline industry and all that goes into it, and I think it hit me at some point that this major isn’t just a major – it’s a lifestyle! I fell for it instantly.”
A first generation American of Colombian descent, when Yidi, 21, collects her diploma this spring from the School of Hospitality Administration, it will be as an emerging star in her own right – perhaps not the kind who packs arenas with fawning fans, but instead fills restaurants and hotel rooms with happy guests anxious to return.
The decision to forgo one entertainment career for another came naturally, she says, and was driven as much by practicality as by her upbringing. The daughter of a successful textile executive and an established oil painter, Yidi likes to joke she’s a melding of the two – at once artistic and business-minded. “I definitely recognized I had to make a living,” she says. She also recognized an innate need to make an impact in whatever field she chose. But as one of roughly 40,000 students on Florida International’s sprawling Miami campus, Yidi was soon starting to feel like the proverbial small fish in a great big pond.
Toward the end of her freshman year, she decided to downsize that pond, exploring BU’s hospitality program as a potential transfer student. It was love at first sight. “There was something about this building that really stuck with me,” she says of SHA. “It literally felt like a home. I wanted to be in a smaller, more personal environment where everyone knows your name. This had it all.” Yidi would transfer that fall to BU. What she gave up in the palm trees, temperate winters and sun-dappled seascapes of the Sunshine State, she soon gained in a collegial setting that enabled her to thrive both academically and socially. “The professors are so attentive, the classes are small, and you just feel like you’re part of a family,” she says. “I remember when I was accepted, I cried.”
It’s been all smiles ever since, though. With the gusto she once reserved for belting out Motown hits and jazz standards, Yidi’s been anything but shy in pursuing her goals at BU, achieving high marks in her program’s rigorous coursework, gaining critical career training through coveted sales and marketing internships with Kimpton Hotels, and earning the respect of fellow classmates, who last year elected her President of SHA’s student government.
Lest you think Yidi’s shaken the singing and performance bug altogether, think again. A leading voice within BU on Broadway, she’s written and directed a play (“Miscast”) since signing on as a sophomore, and starred in another (“All Shook Up”) within the last year. “I’ll always love music and performing,” she says. “My family gave me a niche to be myself. They’ve supported me as I’ve pursued this degree and told me, ‘If you want to do theater and singing after school, that’s great.’”
She’s also performed her fair share of community service, leading SHA’s outreach over the last year to Hospitality Homes, a Boston-based nonprofit providing free short-term housing for families with loved ones in area hospitals. There, Yidi and classmates have done everything from creating wine baskets and arranging dinners for parents to playing ‘hotel’ with kids. “I grew up going to Catholic school, so that community service aspect has always been with me. It’s a necessity,” she says. “SHA used to raise money each year and give it to charity, but I was, like, ‘Why can’t we work?’ It would be on Saturdays, and it’s not like we don’t have the time. I mean, we’re students. We’re outgoing. We can help people to feel at home, which, when you think about it, is a great extension of what we’re already doing.”
Yidi plans to be making a lot of people feel at home after she graduates this May. As of this writing, she’s fielding offers from roughly a half-dozen major hotel and restaurant chains, all offering opportunities to further develop her leadership skills in preparation for management. All, she says, presenting a perfect extension of the training she’s gained over the last three years. And while Yidi won’t altogether rule out a return to stage and song someday, she has dreams of her own within the hospitality field, from opening French restaurants in Miami and Provence to consulting with major hotels to create distinctive experiences that match their settings. It’s a sense of comfort and belief in herself she credits in no small part to her experience in SHA.
“I think when I was at FIU, I wasn’t really myself,” she says. “I was a little fish in a big pond. I just went along. At BU, I’m not sure what it was exactly: the professors, being away from my parents, the unique setting here. But I came into my own. It made me mature really fast. I realized you don’t need to be the perfect student all the time. You can be yourself and be unique. SHA has made me grow so much as a person.”
It’s a high note on which Yidi’s all too happy to be completing her college career and taking the stage for her next crowd-pleasing performance.