Syracuse University Magazine

A Performer's Inspirational Journey


For Kristie Salerno Kent '95, performing is her passion. A gifted singer-songwriter, her first album, Believe, hit the charts in 2006. During Salerno Kent’s treasured years at SU, where she graduated from the College of Visual and Performing Arts with a B.F.A. degree in drama, the customary and arduous journey into the world of professional entertainment began. But, consider the challenge of yet another demanding and far more daunting journey—the journey of self-discovery. At age 26, Salerno Kent was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic debilitating disease of the central nervous system. It took several years, but eventually she embraced the serious illness and moved forward with her life and career. She chronicles the struggles and triumphs over MS in her memoir, Dreams: My Journey with Multiple Sclerosis, available as both an e-book and audio book (free download at

Salerno Kent spoke to Syracuse University Magazine contributing writer Sherri Heller ’76 from her home in Atlanta.

When you were a young girl, who were your heroes?

(She laughs, recalling…) Wonder Woman. Not the comic book character, but the actress Lynda Carter in the CBS series, Wonder Woman. I knew she was playing a character that was strong and good and wanted to help people. It was the first taste of what I believed I could do—connect with people as a performer.

Did you always want to perform?

Always. That’s why SU appealed to me. I was born and raised in Syracuse, and I was surrounded by SU alumni. My mom, two sisters, and my husband, Michael, attended SU, and I knew of the excellent drama department. In 1988, right before my sophomore year in high school, I went to Syracuse Stage’s distinguished summer camp program.  That’s when I fell in love with SU.

What drama department productions were you in and who were your mentors at SU?

During my sophomore year, I presented with some symptoms of MS, but I chose to ignore them. At that time, I just thought I was working too hard and was overtired. In my junior year, I was in the debut of the original musical, That’s To Love, and the play Women and Wallace, when I played a psychiatrist. In my senior year, I was in the Stephen Schwartz musical The Baker’s Wife, and an improvisational group called The Broken Compass Players. The entire faculty was great—especially Elizabeth and Malcolm Ingram, husband-and-wife drama professors. Arthur Storch, producing artistic director at Syracuse Stage, was very influential. He told me to always trust my instincts as a performer. I still follow that instruction, even to this day.

How did SU prepare you for the world of professional entertainment?

You work all aspects of theater. The best advice I ever received was early in my sophomore year when all drama students are evaluated and critiqued. We were told, “If you can do anything else, do it. This business is not just about pure talent. And it is tough.” Through all the difficulties I’ve had with MS, it was my theater roots that helped me survive. I learned that acting, real acting is not about pretending. It is about truth. And that is very uplifting and freeing.

How did the concept of your book come about?

Because I had been performing within the MS community at fund raisers, special events, and educational forums, I became an ambassador for MS. In 2007, I wrote and directed a short documentary film called The Show Must Go On. All the original songs in Believe and my film were really a launch for the book. I knew I had so much more to say and that I could help people by sharing my truth, so I started writing. And it all came together.

In the book, you write about how important music is in your life. What words of inspiration can you pass on to others about how music helps you?

I come from a musical family. Music was the connector for all our happy signature events. Coming from an Italian-Irish family, we were always having sing-alongs. Music brings you closer to people and it gives you a memory. It is a motivator and at its best, it is meant to be shared. That’s the special quality—the dynamic give-and-take between performer and audience. Whether it is in an intimate setting or in a full-house auditorium.

Can you share with us where you are right now in your own journey of health and wellness with MS?

I am stable now. I take a cocktail of medications. MS is not a one-size-fits-all disease. I have a wonderful and strong partnership with my doctor.

Moving forward, do you have any other upcoming projects in the works?

So many really. I am starting an arts-based nonprofit for people facing health challenges. It will help people using music and the arts to educate, motivate, and inspire patients and their families. And I am touring and singing at many MS major events around the country. I am a spokesperson for Acorda Therapeutics, a biotechnology company focused on developing therapies that restore function and improve the lives of people with MS.

How do your husband, daughter, and son inspire you creatively?

My son, Kingston, who is 4, has a thirst for knowledge that is insatiable. My daughter, Giabella, who is 1 year old, hears music in everything. When I file my nails, she starts bopping up and down to the rhythm of the emery boards. My children motivate and inspire me. My husband, Michael, is my high school sweetheart and he supports my dreams—especially my dreams to dream big.

What do you say to MS patients and their families to help them in their journey of healing?

To someone recently diagnosed, I say, “Don’t walk alone. You will feel like you are on a path of the unknown, but continue to dream big. You can accomplish your dreams.” When I perform all across the country, it is so rewarding for me. At a recent MS event, I saw a man in the audience get up from his wheelchair to applaud my performance. Reaching people, connecting with them on this level, to give people some joy and happiness gives me courage too. Each time I step on the stage I get this wonderful opportunity. As a national spokesperson for the MS Society, I am ever mindful that SU is where my talent was first nurtured. It prepared me for all that I am doing right now. And I continue to dream big.

DreamsCover.jpgKristi Salerno Kent '95 chronicles her struggles and triumphs over MS in her memoir, Dreams: My Journey with Multiple Sclerosis.