Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Triumph Over Failure

Stephanie Kepke

Failure is a part of life, and it often leaves one stronger and wiser. But…when it’s our students who are failing college classes, it can leave parents feeling disappointed, frustrated, confused and even angry. After all, college is not a small investment and to see both your dollars and the opportunities afforded by attending a prestigious institution, such as Hofstra, squandered is upsetting. It may seem hopeless, but I’m here to tell you that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

You see, my son, Joshua, failed three classes in the first semester of his sophomore year in fall 2020. Looking back, it was a perfect storm. Covid was raging. Some of his classes were virtual, but most were in-person. He had a severe phobia of covid tests at the time (which, thankfully, he has gotten over), so he missed his mandatory covid test, due to an anxiety attack, and was therefore not allowed to return to campus. Thanks to his attention deficit disorder, he struggled mightily with a full schedule of virtual classes. To top it all off, he was in a major that was not the right fit for him, even though he had just switched into it the semester before from another major that was not a good fit.

When I clicked on my ebill statement on the Hofstra portal in the dawning days 2021, I was hit with a bit of sticker shock. Joshua had lost his scholarship…or so we thought. Telling him he had to withdraw from school was excruciating, but without his scholarship we simply could not afford for him to return. He decided to take a gap semester before transferring to community college to at least try for an associate’s degree. He always had an interest in real estate, so we bought him a real estate course, so he could study for his license during his time off. We were all quite despondent, to be honest—this wasn’t just something that affected Joshua. As a parent, when your child’s dreams are shattered, yours are, as well.

Another disappointing aspect for me that had nothing to do with Joshua was dropping out of Parent Council. I truly enjoyed the meetings and cherished the friendships I had made. It pained me to let Branka Kristic, Director of Parent and Family Programs, know that I would not be attending any more meetings. However, that one email changed the trajectory of Joshua’s life in ways we couldn’t even imagine at the time.

Upon hearing that I would not be returning to Parent Council, since Joshua had dropped out of school, Branka sprung into action. She immediately called me to let me know that not all hope

was lost and advocated for Joshua, calling the bursar’s office to see if he had indeed lost his scholarship, since generally scholarship reviews take place at the end of each academic year, not the end of the semester. I could have sworn I saw a message that said, “Insufficient grades” and a $25,000+ price tag when I initially tried to pay the spring bill. But, Branka let me know that Joshua did still have his scholarship and he would be welcomed back to campus, should he decide to return. It was nothing short of a miracle.

While Joshua felt that it was too late for him to return for Spring Semester 2021, as it was two weeks in already and it would be difficult to make up the work he missed, he set about making plans to return for Fall Semester 2021. The first order of business was deciding what he was truly passionate about—not what he felt he should major in, but what he’d love to major in if pursuing his dreams did not crash into the reality of a post-graduation job search. He had switched majors from radio production to political science for the Spring Semester 2021 (he entered Hofstra as a psychology major), but he never actually took even a single class in political science…

After lots of discussion and soul-searching, he came to the conclusion that I had suspected would be best for him all along—music was his passion and that was what he’d truly love to study. I knew this from the time he was in high school and first applying to colleges. I encouraged him to apply to music programs, as he’s wildly talented, even being self-taught. He thought it would be impractical for the future, so he fought it and by not following his dreams, he struggled and failed multiple classes. He earned a .42 GPA for Fall Semester 2020. Discovering the BS in Music Business program, which includes music performance studies, combined with Branka’s advocacy changed Joshua’s life for the better, and here’s where the story gets really good…

Joshua went from that .42 GPA for Fall Semester 2020 to a 3.47 GPA when he returned to Hofstra in Fall Semester 2021. In fact, in his major he now has a 3.70 GPA. He loves his classes. He’s even found his “tribe” after difficulties in making new friends as a commuter. He’s in several music clubs, both performance and business-based and performs in the Percussion Ensemble and the Jazz Ensemble. Their upcoming concerts are free and open to the public, so if you are local you can catch all the talented students on both April 23rd (Jazz Ensemble) and May 9th (Percussion Ensemble). He also has performed as a musical guest on Thursday Night Live and Two Weeks notice, both shows Hofstra’s HEAT network, as part of the backing band for rapper Official X. He just recorded a song for one of his classes, on which he plays all the instruments.

His professor liked it so much, he sent it to the music supervisor of an indie movie. Joshua’s friend used it for a short movie he filmed, and even though I truly hate to brag…it really is pretty amazing.

On second thought, bragging is actually important in this situation. And you know why? I’ll tell you…the whole point of this essay is to let you know that even if your student is struggling, there is hope. You and your student just need to do a couple of things. First, reach out to Branka at the office of Student and Parent Services. She is a true gem and can help you with literally any situation that comes up. She’s a treasure and always has students’ and families’ best interests at heart. If there is a way to help your student (and there is always a way), she will find it and point you in the right direction.

Branka helped us tremendously in the process of filing an appeal to get Joshua’s scholarship reinstated, because even though he didn’t lose it for the Spring Semester 2021, he did lose it after taking an academic leave of absence. But, knowing whom to speak with and how to go about the appeal process made everything so much smoother and, as I’m sure you can figure out, Joshua’s scholarship was reinstated with no problems, thankfully. Marc Oppenheim, Dean of the Center for University Advising, was also extremely helpful. He met with me and Joshua via Zoom to really help with Joshua’s path going forward. Take advantage of all the people at Hofstra who want your student to succeed. They’re there to help.

The second thing you and your student must do is have a serious conversation about your student’s passions. The old saying, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life,” applies to college, as well (that quote—or some variant of it—has been attributed to everyone from Confucius to Tim Cook). If your student studies what he/she/they love, it’s not really work and success is pretty much guaranteed. And the best part about that? Studying what you love in college leads to a life of doing what you love.

It might take a bit of experimenting—Joshua first auditioned for the Music Business BS (with music performance) as a bass major. That’s not really his first instrument, and he did not get into the program and was placed in the Music Business BA program (purely a business program for non-musician students). However, he did get accepted as a percussionist into the BS performance program right after he returned to Hofstra, and he absolutely LOVES it. The drums are his first

love, and he’s been soaring to new heights in his private studies with world-renowned percussionist, Sean Ritenauer. Professor Ritenauer is also the director of the Percussion Ensemble and the opportunity to study with him one-on-one and in a group setting is something Joshua would never have experienced if Branka didn’t pick up the phone and call me after I emailed her that I wouldn’t be returning to Parent Council. And for that we are forever grateful. So, do not give up hope if your student is struggling. Reach out to Branka, talk to your student, brainstorm what gives your student joy, and before you know it, you’ll be celebrating your student’s success.