Music has always captivated Wilkensley Thervil, a junior double major in Technology and Applied Design (TAD) and Computer Science. Born in Haiti without access to musical instruments, his first introduction to them came after he immigrated to the United States in the fourth grade. He tried orchestra but found he was more suited for band, where he developed his talent and honed his musical style.

During Thervil’s junior year of high school, he split his time between regular classes and trade school. One of his professors provided a list of colleges ranked by cost. Curious, Thervil glanced at the bottom of the list and saw Berea, followed by the words “tuition free.” He didn’t believe it at first but decided to apply. 

Thervil joined the Black Music Ensemble (BME) his first semester at Berea, and credits it for helping him grow both musically and socially. Known on campus as Willy, Thervil is an essential addition to the BME as a percussionist, and he is a dependable and compassionate friend and student. He is also the 2019 recipient of the Red Foley Music Award, which recognizes students for their exemplary musical contributions to the campus community and assists with their personal advancement in music.

“Music is a passion, but at heart, I am a businessman,” he said, explaining how he loves the hands-on nature of TAD and working with technology and machines. 

Wilkensley Thervil sitting next to a set of drums
Wilkensley Thervil sitting next to a set of drums, one of the many instruments he plays. Photo by Oluwatobi Adejumo ’20

As for the BME, “It’s a family,” Thervil said. “It’s been a great experience. I go there to de-stress. I listen to what the musicians are doing—just observing and having a good time.”

That sense of community and playing for other people is important to Thervil. 

“Music can be processed and integrated in many ways,” he said. “Some people use music as therapy, some as a part-time hobby, for fun or to make a living. If you and I listened to the same song, the way I feel about the song will be different from the way you feel about it.”

Thervil’s goals for his time at Berea and for his life seem to go hand-in-hand, as he seeks to learn as much as possible and make a difference in the lives of others. 

 “You never know how music can impact somebody. It does make a difference in some way, whether it is big or small,” he said. 

See Wilkensley Thervil in Action

Watch Wilkensley Thervil perform with the BME during the 2019 Berea College Christmas Concert. The BME portion begins at 1:28:15.

Thervil continues to serve his community at Berea through his personal music ventures and time dedicated to individual lessons and student performances at events like the Black Student Union Homecoming Pageant and Unity Banquet. His fun-loving attitude and vivacious spirit allow for an ever-evolving and comfortable musical environment for Berea students.

For the past four decades, Berea has selected a recipient for the Red Foley Memorial Music Award. The prize is named after Red Foley, a distinguished musician who was born in Blue Lick, Ky., and grew up near Berea. As a young child, Foley played a variety of instruments with ease and performed regularly at his father’s general store. He attended the Berea Academy School and pursued his career as a musician, becoming a star and earning induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1967.


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