I have been a musical theatre geek for as long as I can remember, to the point where I was inspired to get my bachelor’s degree in Theatre Arts. I had some stellar experiences with my programming board, and started shifting my aspirations towards a field more focused on events. After trying out a career in event sales and hospitality, I made the decision to apply to Student Affairs graduate programs. Though my theatre career is now centered around being an audience member, the musicals I love still shape the way I see the world. My #SAGrad application journey would not have been complete without some of the musical life lessons I learned from some old and new favorites:
Into the Woods
I have a theory that each of the characters in Stephen Sondheim’s fairy tale conglomerate, Into the Woods, represents different stages of life. After my Jack (of beanstalk fame) days of undergrad, I would currently place myself in the Cinderella stage of my life. There comes a moment where Cinderella has to make her first big decision: does she run from the prince or go to him? She decides that her decision is “not to decide” and leaves behind a shoe to see what will happen.
When I first started entertaining the idea of working in Student Affairs, I decided to throw out some “shoes” in a couple of different areas, and see which one stuck. I applied for a mixture of jobs in higher ed and hotel sales. I ended up getting interviews for two jobs at the same time: a position in sales at a luxury hotel and a position in student center operations at my alma mater. I ended up not getting either job. However, I realized how much more invested I was in the student center job. I was excited about the ideas I was discussing during the interview process, and I was absolutely crushed when I did not get the job. The experience showed me how much more passionate I was about higher education than hospitality, so I decided to start the Student Affairs graduate application process.
I ended up receiving an offer for a similar position that had opened up at the hotel in January. Now it was decision time, and I nervously told them thank you, but I had decided on a career change. The next day, I received my first acceptance to a program!
Spongebob Squarepants the Musical
I had the pleasure of seeing Spongebob Squarepants the Musical’s out-of-town Broadway tryout in Chicago. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, and how it included some valuable insight that could be translated to Student Affairs. Over the course of the show, Spongebob is constantly told that he is not manager material. Spongebob frets over his lack of skills when it comes to stopping a volcano from destroying Bikini Bottom. In the end, he encourages his friends to use their strengths to defeat the volcano, and realizes his optimism and support of his friends is his strength. He is manager material after all!
The graduate school application process was enormously humbling for me. There were many times when I looked at personal statement prompts and felt like a simple sponge myself. I decided to talk to Student Affairs professionals I had looked up to during undergrad, and find out what skills they thought were necessary to be a good Student Affairs professional. I learned that in order to be “manager material,” I needed to be willing to listen to and advocate for my students, and to trust my students to use their own skills. One professional I spoke to told me that “students don’t need us as much as we think they do,” which inspires me to ensure that I have a clear understanding of what my students do need, whether that is support or a challenge. Figuring out what “manager material” was helped me figure out how a simple sponge like me could fit into that material.
Rock of Ages
As a teenager in New Jersey, I spent most of summer 2009 obsessing over the 80’s jukebox musical Rock of Ages. While a musical featuring that much glitter and spandex may not seem the most obvious choice for inspiration, the moral of the story has always stuck with me: “Sometimes the dreams you come in with aren’t always the dreams you leave with, but hey, they still rock.” The main characters in the show do not end up becoming a rock star and movie star, instead they realize they value honesty and love over the crooked paths they were taking to achieve their career goals.
There is still a part of me that wonders how the freshman dead set on becoming a Broadway casting director in New York City would feel about the fact that I am gearing up to spend two years in a midwestern town, 45 minutes from the nearest Starbucks, to start my career in higher education. I wonder if I am disappointing a part of myself. Then I remember that the important thing is that I still have dreams that are fulfilling to me, and I am working hard to achieve them. I also know what a joy it is to watch students develop into leaders, which I could not have imagined at the beginning of my college career. Though I probably will not end up with a Tony Award over the course of my career, I am excited to see where my Student Affairs journey takes me next.
*cue Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’*