Throughout the blog, I’ll be offering some personal insights into my process of discerning graduate school. Especially in the performing arts, the two camps are pretty clear: go to school to learn more about being an artist or…just go be an artist. I sought opinions from many trusted friends, and I gathered testimonials–via the interweb–from a number of strangers who’d already gone through the process. I’m ready to add my voice to the din. During this time, I started a journal, and I’ll be sharing excerpts from these writings. Coincidentally, that was one year ago this week. Here’s my 7 1/2 cents.
September 22, 2013
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” -Semisonic
How many maxims exist to describe starting and ending things? Endeavors? Goals? Journeys?
This journal–or the idea behind it–has been brewing for years now. Today’s act of merely beginning to reflect on it on paper is even just a continuation of thoughts and reflections begun much earlier. This journal has to do with the “next step”–even if the next step is the status quo.
This is year nine of teaching at Notre Dame [High School–St. Louis]. This is about to be the longest I’ve done any one thing in any one place since being a student in grade school. People younger than me have already been through several jobs, while people older than me have already put in decades. I fall right in the middle. The time has come to assess what the next chapter will be. I find it difficult to begin this story in any one place. So let’s begin with the here and now.
One week ago, the very talented cast of Parade finished a successful run at the Ivory Theatre [with R-S Theatrics]. I had the great pleasure of doing this show with one of my best friends, Jen Theby Quinn. We both found this show–and the roles we played–to be quite significant in ways we have not sussed out yet. We know the story we had was important; we know we had a journey of faith to tell it; and we have a feeling it will be important to our careers. Had it not been for the kind hospitality of Jen and Terry, I might not have survived the rehearsal process. Though short, it was grueling, and the stress of the start of the school year mingled with the normal stress of the process. They supported me in tangible ways like food and a place to nap, and I supported Jen in intangible way like decompressing after rehearsal and facing another day.
We were extremely proud of what we put onstage, but the physical stress of day job and evening job was palpable. Despite this, Parade was good, and we were damn good in it. We could feel it. Spending so much time together was a blessing, because we had made such pains to audition our tails off last winter and spring. To start the season together was a gift. But it also marked the start of some good things for us professionally. We were getting some roles that really suited us: roles that took time, effort, research, energy, craft, mind, body, and recovery. We started to wonder whether we could do this all the time.
• • • • •
At the same time as the start of the academic year and the same time as Parade rehearsals commenced, I attended the recognition dinner for the Peabody Leaders in Education award that I received in February. The gala dinner was exquisite–a cocktail reception at the Ballpark Hilton followed by a dinner, a speech by Jackie Joyner-Kersee, presentation of awards, photos, and fanfare. I felt like a million bucks. Also, the coordinator had asked S. Michelle if some ND girls would volunteer as greeters. I was the only teacher I could tell who had his administrators and his parents and his students there. I was surrounded with love, and I loved it. It was a warm feeling to be told “You’re a great teacher,” and the idea that I was changing lives didn’t seem so vague and Hallmark-y. It felt real.
I had also begun the school year with a specific request of myself: how did I feel day to day? What was my heart saying as I encountered the events of the day at ND? How does the first day of school feel? How does the 6:15 alarm feel? How do I feel sitting in an advisee appointment? The examples are endless. I found that despite my exhaustion from the long days, though, I truly love my students. I am genuinely happy to see them. I actually care what they are going through. I desperately want them to learn. I was finding on a daily basis that I cared for them much more deeply than I realized. And I realized leaving them would be a very painful ordeal.
• • • • •
The idea of pursuing graduate school has dropped in front of me frequently, almost from the moment I graduated Lawrence [University, ’04]. At various times, I have either brushed the idea aside immediately or pondered it for a short while before placing it back on the shelf. I have witnessed almost all of my friends pursue advanced degrees. I have seen them struggle to balance work and school. I have heard them bemoan financial woes. I have seen them fall off the social map. I have also seen them go the the next level professionally.
Pursuit of graduate school seemed to present three options. A Master in Education would be very utilitarian: it would be the easiest to attain while still teaching, would bump the pay, and would require what seemed to be mind-numbing classes. Another option would be the Master of Music: several schools have summer programs, the classes would be much more practical and creative towards my situation, and it could serve me even if I left teaching. And then there was the dangerously appealing Master of Fine Arts: a tantalizing degree that would propel me in a slightly different direction, would mean that I would have to quit Notre Dame, and would not actually provide any guarantee of solid work.
But it was by far the most exciting.