Last spring, I was adjusting my plans so I could graduate at the end of fall term when my advisor told me I was two credits short of the required overall credit total. I’m sure many students have been in similar spots. Universities wonder why their retention rates are low, when the requirements in place usually make finishing school as difficult as it could possibly be. But two credits really wasn’t that bad.
Most people might solve the problem with a yoga class or two, but I decided to do something different. I graduated from a performing arts high school, so I had been on stage many times growing up. But I developed a love for musical theater that I was never able to do anything with because I simply can’t sing.
I wasn’t born with one of those naturally impressive voices. In fact, I am naturally quiet and anxious, and I barely even spoke before acting brought me out of my shell. I’m still asked to repeat myself constantly, and my mother tells me to stop mumbling at least once a week.
Despite all that, I decided to spend my two credits on a beginning voice class.
I have a huge admiration for people who can sing. I saw a touring production of Les Misérables when I was 14 that pretty much changed my life, and ever since then I’ve been a musical junkie. I’ve seen Rent in Los Angeles, Cabaret in New York, Wicked in London and many more.
Most of the gifted young singers I went to high school with would tell me that anyone with the proper training can learn how to sing, but I figured I’d never be able to afford expensive voice lessons so I wouldn’t know if that was true or not. So the opportunity to take beginning voice at Portland State and even just see what was involved was almost like crossing something off my bucket list. Who knew?
At the end of my undergraduate career, I have become very used to taking English and writing classes. And I have taken some wonderful and fascinating ones from some amazing professors that I won’t soon forget. But the thing is, I’m good at writing. I’m good at picking out important themes in literature and writing papers about them. I majored in the thing I am best at, and while I am very lucky to be able to say I enjoy it too, not feeling challenged can take its toll on you.
Sometimes, I would experience a writing professor who was willing to push me to the next level and break down my work, sentence by sentence, to make me consider the meaning of every word and syllable. I love that. But taking beginning voice with five other people has been a much different sort of challenge. I was in a class where I did not start off the best, or even that good. I was probably the least experienced. For a couple weeks, I considered switching to yoga or something, because I thought I’d be a dismal failure. Then I learned things that I didn’t even begin to know, and I progressed and got better.
I practiced! As someone who can write a paper an hour before class and get an A (I know, I’m sorry), working for something was not really in my skill set. It was refreshing and exciting to look at an assignment—even if it was a song—as something to really work through and figure out.
I am pretty old to be learning from scratch, but that’s the great thing about it. I might never be Adele, but I’m walking away with knowledge and ability that I really earned. Most likely, singing will have no practical use for me. Ever. But who cares?
It’s difficult to say that you should invest money in taking more classes that won’t pay off financially. I’m as poor as the next person, and my biggest struggles at PSU have involved not knowing where my next meal is coming from far more often than they’ve involved academia.
But if there is one thing that I’m taking away from my final term, it’s that you can’t scoff at the value of really learning something. It can excite you, give you confidence and make you see yourself in a different light. It’s not entirely easy to step into an arena you know nothing about, but I believe that everyone should try it at least once before they graduate.
Put some time into enriching the person you are, not just your job prospects. I don’t tell you this from a place of financial privilege at all. I just think that it’s important not to put yourself in a box and tell yourself what you can and can’t accomplish, because almost everyone can accomplish more than they know.