As summer approaches, recent high school graduates across the country are planning the next steps in their lives. About 69 percent of these adolescents will choose the route of traditional higher education. Yet only four out of ten will graduate after four years.
The truth is, the standard American education system is far too rigid to support the success of all of our young people. Most traditional universities have strict application and admission criteria and an equally grounded approach to developing knowledge. But not everyone learns this way. And it’s good. As an 18 Grammy Award winner, I’m proof that struggling within the traditional system often has more to do with the system itself than the individual, and once you find a place that allows your creativity to flow. flourish, success will follow.
I came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant as a child with my family fleeing a military dictatorship in Argentina. Although my parents appreciated the education in our home, I was never a very good student. But even though I lacked “book intelligence”, I had a passion for music and creation. Unfortunately, without a great academic record, I didn’t have many options after graduating from high school. While I had a knack for creating music, a degree from a music school like Berklee College of Music or the University of Miami was out of reach for me. They asked for an audition on a main instrument, but I approached the music from a different angle and was passionate about punk and alternative music. Combined with my average grades, below average SAT scores, and out of reach tuition fees, these options weren’t a departure for me.
The application process for most universities eliminates non-traditional students like me. We are smart and creative, but unable to excel in a system that values reductive thinking and conformity. With so few options, I ended up enrolling in a public university in Florida through an equal opportunity program for minority students.
It was like putting a square peg in a round hole.
My learning style is hands-on and I struggled there. I knew my real passion would always be music, but I didn’t know how to make it my life. I knew I was in the wrong place. Then one day, I came across a day of musical career that changed my life. There I found a school that catered to people like me.
This school was Full Sail University, and throughout my time in its Recording Arts program, I thrived. I had finally found a program designed for students who were not learning the traditional way and where passion ran through the veins of faculty, staff and other students. Full Sail’s hands-on teaching approach allowed me to learn how to use the technical equipment that I would encounter throughout my career as a producer and music engineer. Thanks to the unique experience offered by Full Sail, I was perfectly prepared for my first post-graduation job at Crescent Moon Studios, owned by Gloria & Emilio Estefan.
I started out as an intern in search of coffee. But after years of hard work, I started working on projects like Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, and Shakira. I have been fortunate enough to work with some of the biggest names in Latin music and am grateful to have won six Grammys and twelve Latin Grammys. I even gave lessons in the same music schools that would not have accepted me as a student.
Looking back on my educational journey, I can say with certainty that our country’s standard education system marginalizes a large population of people who have a lot to give but who are not designed to learn like traditional schools teach. If I had listened to the system and believed that I was not capable of succeeding, I don’t know what I would do now. But I probably wouldn’t spend every day in the studio making music for people to enjoy.
As students look to the future, I encourage everyone to keep alternative education options in mind. While a traditional university may be a good choice for some, others may need to look a little further to find a school that is right for them. Don’t be discouraged and don’t give up. And never let someone diminish your passion.