I'm back on the campus of the college of my youth, The University of Maryland. It looks very familiar. I’m not sure it remembers me. I’m going to try to change that.
Students are bopping in and out of buildings on the way to their future. There are wires dangling from their ears and gadgets in their hands. I can't help wondering how I would have felt competing with a device for a cute guy’s attention. It used to be a no brainer. All eyes on me. Now, over 3 decades later, I am invisible.
I knock tentatively on the door of my college sorority house. A fresh faced Tridelt greets me and offers to show me around. I visit my freshman triple. My sophomore double. No sign of me or Boyle or Dwyer or Pudge except on an “antique” composite on the third floor way in the back of the house. Proof we were there. Wow, our hair sure was puffy back then! In another year or two that composite will be in storage. Make room for the new.
The “dormer”—a huge dark room furnished with wall to wall bunk beds and a ceiling fan—used to be down this hall. That’s where we all slept. At first it seemed like an odd arrangement but there were benefits to communal slumber: like if your roomie went to bed, you could stay up late and study or umm, fool around…(I mean—hook up) in the privacy of your "dayroom.”
The dormer also made the 2 a.m. fraternity raid way more streamlined as there was just one room the frat boys had to run through. I can still see the curlers flying and hear the sisterhood screaming “Oh No Oh No, Raid Raid!!” Ahh, but we loved it.
There is now a closet where the house pay phone was…where I made collect calls to my folks on Tuesday nights. Imagine that. I talked to them once a week.
And there's the Baby Grand in the downstairs foyer. Sounds like it hasn't been tuned since I graduated. Wow…the hours spent playing her…oblivious to everything going on around me. (Note to self: offer to have that piano tuned.)
But I'm not on campus for the purpose of nostalgia. I'm here to give a Master Class at the Performing Arts Department. I’m here to share my journey and connect the dots between what happened since I left and where I am now.
I’m here to sing some songs, read from my book, share my adventures in songwriting, answer some questions.
I’m hear to talk about rejection, the 10,000 hours, the little miracles that lead to bigger miracles, some more rejection, a glass half full attitude, disappointment, recovery, leaving yourself open so that opportunity can find you, waiting for all the stars to collide.
In the Master Class, I’m no longer invisible. Thank God. I tell the students that whatever they dream…whether literary or musical or thespian, they should envision it, believe it and go for it for heaven’s sake. (And read The Alchemist!)
These four years are like a free pass to freedom, wonder, experimentation, exploration, stumbling, discovery. Life can be pretty good afterwards as well, but you'll never get that grace period again.
So, say "yes" a lot. Listen. Take chances. Audition. Make a fool of yourself—that's a lot easier to do when you’re young.
College wasn’t perfect. I had my share of broken hearts, C-minuses and zits. But all in all it was a rich, eye-opening experience and although I didn’t wind up pursuing a career in the area of my study, it readied me in many important ways, for the world. Little did I know my time on that piano would be part of my story.
I hope I inspire one student. And if I do, perhaps some day, years from now, she’ll return to College Park and look back on all the places she’d been. Then perhaps she’ll proceed to this very spot where I’m standing and tell her own story. If that should happen, I’ll know I’ve paid if forward.
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