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Aimee Liu Headshot

College Blues

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Tis the season for college rejections - and then some. My Yale alumni listserv is crackling with pain over sons and daughters with 800 SAT scores who were denied admission by Ivy League colleges. Not even a perfect overall score was a guarantee at Yale, and thousands with 4.0 grade point averages were rejected by Princeton. This reportedly was the most selective spring that admissions officers can remember.

But, one member of my class of '75 piped up, "What would happen if we all rebelled and told our kids to do whatever they wanted, to do it as well as they could because it is worth doing, and not worry about college? To revel in the moment instead of focusing on the future? Maybe we'd give admissions offices something to think about."

I had to agree. This is precisely the approach my husband and I took with our now 21-year-old son. Graham's first word was ball, and by age 3 he was running around the house with a toy guitar singing the lyrics by memory to just about any song he heard - from "La Bamba" to Guns and Roses. Those early interests stuck. He spent twelve years working his way up through AYSO to varsity soccer, and by middle school was playing a real guitar.

That wasn't all that interested Graham. He attended acharter elementary school where he became a peer counselor in fifth grade. In high school he elected to take Great Books. He loved volunteering as a counselor at a summer camp for homeless kids, and he dutifully went through
the college application process. However, he refused to lift his eyes from the pavement during his tours of Yale and Harvard, and we didn't even bother looking at Princeton or Columbia.

By junior year of high school, what Graham considered most "worth doing" was playing music. He and three friends created an alternative rock band. My son, the lead singer and guitarist, wrote the lyrics of their songs, and collectively they developed their arrangements.

The group applied to and were accepted by various (non-Ivy) colleges. Three wound up at USC, but midway through their sophomore year the band was signed by Capitol and Fearless Records. Their album came out last summer, and they've been touring the country ever since, clocking more miles in a year than I've driven in fifty. They're 21, with three semesters of college credit, and I have no idea when they will complete school, or if all this will lead them to "stardom." I do know they love what they are doing now, in this moment.

I also know that they could never learn in a classroom what they have learned by seizing this opportunity. A sampling? Negotiation, independence, business management, publishing, finance, taxes, conflict resolution, poetry, marketing, graphic art, media training, public relations,
merchandising, recording technology, corporate well as filling out police reports when their van is broken into, fetching their vehicles from the pound in strange cities, sleeping on the floors of fans who are strangers, befriending Japanese rock stars on one tour and heavy metal headliners on another, giving television and radio interviews and schmoozing record
company CEOs.

Contrary to the sex, drugs, and rock and roll stereotype that, I confess, unnerved me when Graham began this odyssey, this experience has matured and mellowed my son. He's learned he cannot afford to judge people by their image or pose or genre. I now can sense him digging beneath the surface of the people he meets before deciding who is good and generous and talented and worth his trust.

He is living a learning adventure that is only possible now, in this way, at this moment in his life.

Am I worried my son will never finish college? Am I sad that he won't have the traditional undergraduate experience? Do I worry that his music career will succumb to the seemingly inevitable implosion of the recording industry? Do I worry about whether he has "enough"
talent, drive, luck, and toughness to sustain this career - or shift into another?

You bet!

But I also know that Graham is an engaged, creative individual who is taking full responsibility for his own choices. As someone who returned to school to earn an MFA at 53, I also know that there is no age limit on education, nor is there any one perfect place to learn. You can attend the "best" school in the world and squander the experience if you don't yet have a secure sense of who you are in the world.

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PS. The name of the band is The Outline

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