After a childhood spent in Asheville, North Carolina, with her adoptive parents, Young set off to college at Yale.
“My first [adoptive dad] died before I finished high school, so it was a big deal for my mom to let me go that far away for school,” says Young, who is featured in the most recent issue of PEOPLE.
Young, 45, says she initially had dreams of becoming a physics major.
“Physics was my dearest love,” says the actress, who plays scene-stealing First Lady Mellie Grant on Shonda Rhimes‘ Scandal. “But it turns out I am not as good at physics on the world stage as I was in North Carolina, so I finished with a double major in English and theater.”
While at Yale, Young also got the chance to continue exploring her love for singing as a member of one of the university’s a capella groups, Mixed Company.
“I loved every second of it,” she says of her years in the group.
After college, Young booked the first national tour of the musical Meet Me in St. Louis and later moved to New York and eventually began landing roles on Broadway.
“The last lead I did on Broadway was a Cy Coleman show called “The Life”, I played a little girl who got off the bus from Duluth, Minnesota, and waited tables for a minute and then stripped and whored and went off to L.A. to be a porn star,” says Young. “Bless my mother’s heart. That was maybe not my mom’s dream, but it kind of was exactly mine.”
And it wasn’t long after “The Life” that Young made the move to Los Angeles herself in 2000.
“I got kicked out of my illegal sublet in Manhattan and was dating a guy in L.A., so I decided to move [west,]” says Young.
And thank God (it’s Thursday) she did!
“When you really dream about something your whole life and you keep your head down and just keep marching forward, you just hope you might get it,” Young says of her success. “And I have. To be in Shondaland is just blessings upon blessing upon blessings. I never want it to end.”