Melissa Rakiro

School: School of Theater, Film and Media Arts
Degree: BA, theater, 2016
Hometown: Collegeville, Pennsylvania

For about as long as she can remember, Melissa Rakiro, TFM 16, has loved to perform. But it was at Temple that a childhood dream of acting transformed into something real. Now, the 29-year-old Rakiro’s star is rising through supporting roles on popular streaming shows.  

Center stage

It was 2017 and Rakiro was in a dreamworld.

Less than a year after earning her BA in theater from Temple, she was onstage in New York City performing Julius Caesar with Shakespeare in the Park, one of the city’s most prestigious off-Broadway theater companies. It proved to be a career-making opportunity, as it set the stage for her future success.

After performing in Julius Caesar, Rakiro landed an agent, and then a role on Luke Cage, a Netflix streaming series whose eponymous lead character is a Marvel superhero. More quickly followed: a role on CBS drama series FBI, Comedy Central’s Nora from Queens, a supporting role on the Golden Globe-nominated biopic Rustin produced by Barack and Michelle Obama, and a recurring role on an upcoming season of American Rust, an Amazon Prime series starring Jeff Daniels.

Rising star

Rakiro didn’t come from Hollywood beginnings. Growing up in a family of four in Collegeville, a Montgomery County town about 45 minutes from Philadelphia, she wanted to be a marine biologist through most of elementary school.

But there was that other thing: a natural love for performance. It started at her family’s church, where she sang in the choir. As she grew older, Rakiro began gracing any stage she could find: plays, musicals and honors choir at Perkiomen Valley High School. Suddenly, another dream began to take shape.

Melissa Rakiro poses for a photo in Times Square.
Melissa Rakiro smiles in Times Square.

“I don’t think I could have moved to New York at 18 and just winged it. I really needed that backbone of training that Temple provided for me.”

–Melissa Rakiro

From Temple to Tinseltown

By the time college arrived, Rakiro had made up her mind to pursue acting, but wasn’t sure where to enroll.

Many quality theater programs were in the kind of small college towns she grew up in. The bright lights of New York City drama programs tempted her, but the sky-high tuition spelled danger. Temple, on the other hand, felt just right: a quality education in a big city, but at a rate she could afford.

Rakiro says the decision to become an Owl was fate. Going in, her goal was the big screen. But her classes at Temple exposed her to giants of playwriting like Shakespeare and Arthur Miller. Professor Cheryl Williams, an experienced performer of Shakespearian plays, further fostered an appreciation for the stage.

“A lot of people find Shakespeare boring,” Rakiro said. “But so many things in modern pop culture are based on his works. House of Cards is based off Macbeth, Succession is based off King Lear. His works are so universal.”

Rakiro says her stage work taught her skills like physical and vocal projection that are paying massive dividends as she crosses over into television and movies. She seeks out quality scripts and typically plays strong-willed women, such as an assistant district attorney on the upcoming season of American Rust.

But no matter how high her star rises, Rakiro says she’ll always have Temple to thank.

“I don’t think I could have moved to New York at 18 and just winged it. I really needed that backbone of training that Temple provided for me,” Rakiro said.