One of Christian Basilio's first career goals was to be in the circus.
"I always thought it was cool seeing the people doing the flips and juggling and all that kind of stuff," Basilio said. "I did learn how to eat fire with torches and gasoline."
Basilio, who is a junior Industrial Engineering Technology major at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), also said he learned how to juggle and do flips, but that sort of got lost in the conversation after he said he learned "how to eat fire with torches and gasoline". He taught himself this skill by watching videos on YouTube when he was 16 years old, and it led to this incredible photo from his senior portraits. Basilio also inspired his friends to try it out, even though they thought he was crazy at first.
"I had a few friends kinda figure it out, but they didn't wanna go beyond the simple parts, they didn't wanna learn all the cool stuff," Basilio said. "They learned the simple science behind, OK, I can put it in my mouth, and I have a few seconds before it actually burns me."
If you're thinking that teaching yourself something like this is representative of someone who marches to the beat of his own drum, you would be correct. Perhaps it is even more fitting since Basilio has been playing the drums since he was nine years old.
"My dad's always enjoyed music. He's from Hawaii, so he's always had a ukulele in the house. He was always playing reggae or island-style music," Basilio said. "My first instrument was a Cajon - a drum box - and I had fun playing with him on that. And then when I got to middle school, I saw that I could actually start learning to read music."
The flames he eats hardly compare to the fire that burns inside him for music. However, Basilio (who is also a saxophonist), entered his freshman year at USM, which was during the height of COVID, unsure of his career path. That started to change after he took a concert band class with Dr. Catherine Rand.
"We were one of the classes that met in person with masks, and we also had a smaller classroom size," said Dr. Rand. "I think talking to the students during that time about their personal goals and their hobbies, made COVID, made ourselves, a little more normal in a situation that was not."
Dr. Rand, who refers to Basilio as her "fire-eating friend", said it's important to her to get to know her students on an individual level, and that not everyone who takes a music class is going to go into a music career.
For someone who was on the fence about what he wanted to do with his future, those conversations certainly resonated with Basilio. So, Christian, who became a Christian in his late teens, prayed about what he should do. That is when industrial engineering started to make sense.
"So many things pointed in that direction because people said I seemed like that kind of person," Basilio said. "I talked to other industrial engineers, and they said I had the right mind to do that type of field. And the more I looked into the program, the more I enjoyed it."
If the things Basilio enjoyed doing with his dad during his childhood and teenage years seemed to unconsciously have him on that career path, those conversations certainly lit the way. Not only do the pair share a love for music, but they also share a love for putting things together. His dad, Wayne, is a carpenter, and the duo built many things over the years, including a dog house, a shed, and a deck.
"We were always trying to find better ways of performing different tasks," Basilio said. "I've always been told I can step back from big problems and look at the small things and figure out those things a lot better than normal people can."
Basilio declared his Industrial Engineering Technology major as a sophomore, which is also when he started attending school online from his family home in St. Martin. That move off-campus is helping him pursue both his degree and his passion for music.
"I did a lot of praying and I always wanted to serve more in my church. That allowed me to be here a lot more and serve there,"; Basilio said. "It also allowed me to be closer to my old high school and the high schools around here that know my name.
"I really enjoyed band and I enjoy teaching band. I do that now as a side job. I go to Gulfport High School, St. Martin High School. I've gone to D'iberville, Petal, Vancleave. I've went and helped teach some music there as an assistant to the directors. And seeing that I don't need a degree to go and enjoy a side thing like that, I knew that's not what I wanted to pursue."
Basilio also said his scholarship from the Mississippi Manufacturers Association (MMA) has taken a great deal of stress off him when it comes to financing his education.
"I'm really grateful. I spent a lot of time praising. Thank you, Lord. I don't even know if I applied for this scholarship, and I was just offered it and, I was like, no way. There's no way," he said. "I saw the amount of money I owed this year to USM, and I was like, there's no way. And then it showed up."
This summer, he has an internship lined up with MMA member Ingalls Shipbuilding. There, Basilio hopes to make a good impression and earn a job after he graduates.
"I'm hoping to learn more about what exactly my degree is, or my field is," Basilio said. "When you go in to see how these things play out, it's gonna be a lot different than reading a book. I really just want to learn what I'm going for."