I’m Coming Home to My Berklee Family
After 4 years on the road, 34 countries visited and 23 years away, I found my way home. I left Boston’s Berklee College of Music in 1991 after two years. I was unsure of myself, unsure of my place in the world of music and unsure of what talent I had to offer. The two years I spent at Berklee, I spent terrified of having anyone hear me sing or play the piano in fear someone might figure out I didn’t belong there. I wanted to be in the music business, not on the stage. I thought, if someone saw me perform, they might suggest I go somewhere else because I wasn’t good enough to be there, at the talent saturated Berklee. After all, it is the #1 music school in the world. After surveying the talent around me, and without the offering of a degree path into music business, I started to cave to my insecurities. So, I left.
I wobbled from city to city before finally settling in Los Angeles for 15 years. Still unsure of my place in the world I took a job working alongside Erin Brockovich in environmental law. Maybe this is where I belonged, I thought. Maybe music wasn’t my calling after all. Maybe it was law. But after four years, I grew bored and yearned to be near the entertainment industry, the industry I began to miss. So, I left.
I took a job as a producer and correspondent for a TV show called ‘Celebrity Justice’. I reported on the legal battles in Hollywood. The job was in the entertainment industry, closer to the innate pull I had always felt, but I hated infringing on the private lives of celebrities and forcing a microphone in their faces at inopportune times. So, I left.
I wobbled again the next few years hosting a car racing show on a cable station. It wasn’t for me. I started a retail business still struggling to find something that fit. I was still looking for a place I belonged, somewhere I could settle and call home. After 15 years in LA, I decided what I was looking for wasn’t there. So, I left.
I gave up my home, my car and sold off the majority of my things. I took two suitcases with me and ran away to find something in this world that fit. I traveled to 34 countries in 34 months searching for a new life. Even rock stars grow tired of the road and so did I. So, I left.
I went back to the east coast where I am from spending my time between my family’s home in Cincinnati and New York. I started to feel good again. Maybe it was the east coast I was missing, I thought. Maybe it was family I yearned for.
In the years since I left Berklee, I made five attempts to enroll at other colleges and universities to finish my degree discouraged to find only six credits would transfer and I would have to start over. Each attempt, I walked away dismayed at the prospect of having to invest another four years.
Now back on the east coast, on a whim last September, I called Berklee to see if any of my credits were still good and what would it take for me to finish my degree after 22 years away. The voice on the phone that day will never be forgotten. It said to me, “Welcome back! We’d love to have you come back.” The decision was easy. So, I left.
I began to plan my journey back to a place I wasn’t sure I belonged 22 years ago. I never called myself an alumni. I didn’t feel I deserved the title since I didn’t finish. I never called Berklee my alma mater. Again, I didn’t feel worthy. I never plugged into the network I had available to me, the family I didn’t realize existed. I thought I had to have a degree to belong to that circle or at least have continued on with my music.
I arrived Boston at the end of May only committing to the summer semester. Before making any further commitments, I wanted to see how I felt about being back at Berklee facing the insecurities that plagued me when I had been there last. There was no way around those now. At 43 years old, it was time to get over it.
Walking through the halls, I had flashbacks of my younger self and her struggles. I saw myself in the kids I was in class with. Their heads hanging down when they speak. Their lack of confidence hidden behind the scarves they tape over the windows in the practice rooms. I realized I wasn’t so different from any of the other kids I was surrounded by back then. We all had insecurities in our teenage years. It’s a shame I allowed them to rule my choices.
I stumbled on the first ever alumni reunion, ironically, happening two weeks into my return. I finally decided to acknowledge after the many brochures and emails sent to me over the years by Berklee that yes, I too, was an alumni, even though I didn’t finish. When I arrived at the reunion and began to talk with other alums, I realized a lot of them too, didn’t finish. We were all the same. Still alumni. After 23 years away, I realized that the sense of belonging I had been searching for was here and I neglected it. My Berklee family was here all along with open arms to welcome me back and provide a community for me to come home to.
I left the first alumni reunion with a deep sense of pride along with a deeper sense of regret. Regret that I abandoned this family for so many years, yet grateful they provided an unconditional place for me to come back to. I felt proud to have even been acknowledged as having enough talent to get through their admissions process, yet regret for abandoning that calling.
In the two weeks since arriving Boston leading up to the reunion, I had time to evaluate whether I would stay past the summer to finish my degree. I would need to stay two more semesters and face the nagging fears that still exist and allow others to hear me sing and play. Being completely independent, single and without any family support behind me, I would grow deep into debt financing the education. I would have to swallow my 43-year-old pride and sit next to a young generation while dusting off the musical cobwebs I accumulated and fine tuning the chops I once had. It would be a lot of work and a large disruption in my life full of responsibilities. It was going to be a daunting challenge. But, after leaving the reunion, I realized, I had the support of my Berklee family behind me rooting me on. I realized, I finally have a place where I will always belong. I made the decision to continue on and finish my degree.
So, I’m staying.