Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/doug88888/

This is an excerpt from a speech I submitted for an alumni event at my undergraduate institution. While it is mostly about my own experiences, my hope is that students will stumble upon it and seek the same characteristics in their future school, job, or opportunity. I edited it as to not seem like an advertisement for my school, but if you are curious and have any questions I am happy to speak with you!

My time here can best be compared to a scenario that became one of my favorites stories to tell. It was the first day of my senior year and my first class had just ended. Before moving on to my next class, I decided to make a pit stop to visit the vending machine. I put in my money, the machine vended my snacks, and then all of the change in the machine started pouring out of the coin return. I started screaming, “I WON! I WON!” as I attempted to catch all of the change in my hands from my vending slot machine. Food and money, what more could a performing arts major want?

In this degree program, I found everything I wanted and more.

My journey here was an unusual combination of seamless and reckless. I had no intentions of going to school far from home, yet somehow we looked at schools up and down the east coast. There were times when I was looking at schools that I became discouraged and disinterested. I knew I wanted to become a record producer to ultimately produce my own music, but I also wanted to continue studying double bass to pursue teaching or performing on the side. I remember one school in particular where I was sure there wasn’t a music program in the world that supported my hopes and dreams. The conversation with the music faculty went something like this:

“I would like to primarily study double bass, but would it be possible to start lessons on another instrument as well?”

“No, probably not.”

“Is it possible to be in the choir and the orchestra?”

“No. You have to pick one.”

“Do you offer classes in music technology?”

“No.”

I felt like asking her, “Well what CAN I do here?” Her answers made me feel trapped and it was clear that this was a place where dreams died. Feeling discouraged, we left and moved on.

At our last stop, and I remember feeling exhausted and completely disinterested in looking at any more schools. My mom had arranged a tour, and I was prepared to ask my questions and hear the same answers. This time, the conversation went a little differently.

“I would like to study double bass, but would it be possible to start lessons on another instrument as well?”

“Yes! We offer lessons for non majors too so you would be able to take a beginning level course.”

“Is it possible to be in the choir and in the orchestra?”

“Yes! And if there is a schedule conflict we can work it out.”

I didn’t have to ask the music technology question at all, as we had just passed the computer lab and recording control room, so that was an unspoken “yes.” Things were looking good.

My audition was no different. Not only did I bring my double bass, but I brought my guitar as well. I asked if after my bass pieces if I could play one of my original songs on guitar. Again, they said, “Yes!” The faculty was so warm and personable. It was my favorite college audition.

About a month after my audition, I got a call from the department chair accepting me into the program. I immediately canceled the rest of my auditions. I knew that was where I was going, 12 hours away from home, not knowing a single soul, in a state that I had only vacationed in. I’m still not sure how an 18 year old makes that kind of decision. It was completely uncharacteristic of me, yet somehow it felt right.

My four years here were no different than the experiences I had prior to my acceptance. I was never told I couldn’t pursue any of my musical desires.

I took bass, voice, and piano lessons.
I played in the orchestra and sang in two choirs.
My junior year I completely changed my career focus to choral directing, due to my experiences in the choral department.
I asked if I could take independent choral studies and conducting lessons. They said yes.
I asked if my senior recital could encompass the three areas I loved; double bass, choral conducting, and songwriting.
They said yes.

This degree prepares its students to say yes. We take courses in our field, but also in other areas of the arts. If asked if I know how to run a sound board, I say yes. Can I write a concert review? Yes. Can I market and plan a production? Yes. Can I write a grant? Yes. Can I give a quality performance? Yes. All the more reasons why our employers say “yes.”

After graduation, I attended graduate school to earn my masters in teaching. I am now the choral director at a high school outside of Charleston. People always say that your first year of teaching is the hardest year, yet I can’t say I am experiencing that. I had a student tell me, “My other new teachers don’t seem to have it together yet. You seem like you have been doing this for years.” I felt more than prepared for this job, and a lot of that preparation came from student leadership roles with our choirs.

The degree I earned here and the experiences I had continue to serve my career daily. I’m reminded that I can always find a way to pursue an interest or achieve a dream. I have started telling my students the vending machine story. I tell them not to give up on their dreams, and to put the right amount of work into what they are doing, because you never know how much you are going to get in return.