Journey with me, if you will, back to primeval times - and by that I mean the fall semester of 1978, when I began my sophomore year at the University of Colorado, Boulder. I had started at CU the previous year, fully confident that I knew exactly what I was doing. I was a music performance major, and I had a nice scholarship. By day, I played trombone in the orchestra, symphonic band, and marching band. By night, I played guitar in the low-end coffeehouses, working on my singing (still pretty lame, alas), and writing (what I now realize were incredibly lame) songs.
That fall, though, doubt began to creep into my mind. It happened slowly, and I resisted as long as I could. It wasn't until winter semester that I admitted out loud what I had been realizing in my gut: I just wasn't a good enough trombone player to make a successful life as a performer. Sure, I practiced several hours a day. But there were always people practicing longer. And hey, I was just a medium-sized fish at Colorado. There were all those other players out there, at Oberlin and Julliard and North Texas and Florida and Boston and, of course, Michigan. And I had hit a kind of plateau. My talents were not going to carry me much further than I had already come.
Life-long dream. Something I really loved. Tons of time invested over the years. Lots of emotional effort. Not going to happen. It was awful.
Like many of my peers, I pulled the default switch to music education. I had to make up a bit of lost time and take some classes I didn't care for all that much. It wasn't really working for me.
In the end, I took a semester off. I worked, volunteered, saved my money, and then spent a full summer, mostly on my own, hitching, hiking, and hostelling in Great Britain. When I returned to classes I was a different person. I'd come to terms with my own past and my future plans, and I'd figured out a way to keep something I loved-music-in my life and career planning. I did become a music educator (a middle school band and orchestra teacher) and I found that I loved teaching. (I also realized that I wasn't so keen on sixth and seventh graders, bless their little hearts.) There were other stops along the way-another go-round with the guitar, music video production work, a stint as a video editor, graduate school and so on. But that's another story.
So what are the lessons I take from that sophomore year?
- The unfortunate reality of uncertainty and a bit of disappointment
- Some prolonged and intentional career calculus, none of which translated directly into what I'm actually doing right now!
- The importance of non-classroom learning: work, community service, travel
I'm not saying my sophomore story maps onto yours or anyone else's. I am saying, though, that your sophomore year offers you much to navigate and discover, about yourself, the university, and the world.
The question of the sophomore year is part of a national conversation. Here's the Spark Notes version: Like many institutions, the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts aims to provide a rich support network for your transition from high school to university life. As entering students, you received a lot of attention! And as juniors and seniors, you'll get a different kind of attention from the departments and programs that provide your concentration. But what happens when you're a sophomore?
The Sophomore Initiative courses that we have developed represent our commitment and efforts in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts to provide opportunities distinctly for sophomores. We've held focus groups with sophomores, surveyed the entire LSA sophomore class, and called upon the significant expertise to be found in the Undergraduate Education division of the College. There will be more classes coming. There will be more innovations and more ideas. Many of these will be your own, and we encourage you to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Above all else, have an engaged and exciting sophomore year!
Carroll Smith-Rosenberg Collegiate Professor of History and American Studies
Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education
College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
University of Michigan
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