"Fame" for Real

What's it like to attend the real "Fame" school? Hollywood would have you believe it's like a scene from the 1980 movie musical, or its remake of the same name, now in theatres. CBS News' Alexis Christoforous knows the real story.

I'm a 1988 graduate of LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts in New York City. A drama major. But now, instead of acting, I find myself reporting on Wall Street for a living.

During my time at the high school, there was no dancing on the rooftops of cars stalled in traffic or spontaneous jam sessions in the cafeteria. For a 14-year-old Brooklyn girl from a blue-collar family with a passion for acting, it was the opportunity of a lifetime - and it was completely free!

I was in pretty good company. The long list of famous alumni includes Al Pacino, Adrien Brody, Esai Morales and Jennifer Aniston. Jen was a fellow classmate and drama major. And yes, she was pretty and popular even back then.

But for every Aniston and Pacino there are hundreds more who were never touched by fame and chose a different path. They're the nurses, teachers and bankers who are better for having spent time at LaGuardia High School.

The opportunity to get inside a character's skin taught me more about human behavior than any sociology class ever could.

Sure it was hard work -- but it was a lot of fun, too. Just because it was an arts school didn't mean they went soft on academics. There was chemistry, calculus and English lit in the morning, followed by drama, dance and voice and diction in the afternoon. In fact, it was my voice and diction teacher, Bill Britten, who first suggested I consider a career in broadcasting. Thanks, Mr. Britten!

Nearly 30 years ago, the original "Fame" film became a cultural touchstone for Gen-Xers. Now, a glossy updated version hopes to do the same for a new generation. In fact, today, we see a growing number of public performing arts schools across the country.

Yet sadly, when school budgets are slashed, arts programs are usually the first to go. My performing arts education taught me about taking chances and having a thick skin. It made me a better storyteller - a skill I use everyday as a broadcast journalist.

I may not be headlining at the box office or have my name up in lights, but what I did get out of my education at the real "Fame" school was a perfect dress rehearsal for life.