Better Than Nothing

My son is a singer, a deep bass singer. He’s also a senior in high school, so this year has been about finding a college for him to attend next year – a college that won’t break the bank. Luke applied to five places and was asked to audition at three of them; one in our hometown, one in Boston, and one in Indiana. After his auditions, after he was accepted into all three schools, we were told that we’d hear about any scholarships by April 3rd.

By the end of March, we had heard from two schools and were waiting to hear from Indiana University, Luke’s first choice. He desperately wants to go there; their music school, Jacobs School of Music, is the biggest in the country and one of the most renowned.

Luke’s teachers have all been encouraging. “Don’t worry,” they said, “You’re certain to get a scholarship.” This buoyed us and made us hopeful.

During the last week of March, we scampered to the mailbox each day with bated breath. Luke kept refreshing his email inbox. No word from Indiana.

At 1:00 p.m. on April 3rd, I called the Jacobs School of Music financial department and asked if they could tell us if Luke got a scholarship or not.

“Didn’t you receive the letter we sent out the week of March 20th?”

“No, we didn’t.” This doesn’t sound good, I thought.

“Well, according to our records, Luke didn’t receive any scholarships.”

“Nothing?” I asked, shocked. Didn’t everyone say he’s sure to get a scholarship? How could this happen?

“No, I’m afraid not,” she said.

“Do you base this decision on grade point or talent?” I asked.

“These scholarships are based on talent.” How the hell are we going to tell Luke that he didn’t get a scholarship, that his dream has just been crushed?

“You’re free to file an appeal. I’ll email you the form.”

I was crushed. I couldn’t do anymore work, I could only cry.


Luke came home from school about an hour later and immediately opened his email inbox. “What’s this appeal form?” he asked, confused.

“Well, buddy,” I said with tears streaming down my cheeks, “we called Jacobs School of Music today and you didn’t get a scholarship.”

“What!” he said. “That’s not right.” He looked indignant.

“Well, Luke, that’s what the woman in the financial aid department said. Apparently we didn’t get the letter they sent out a few weeks ago.”

“No,” Luke said again. “That’s not right.” He got up from the table, picked up his laptop and retreated to his bedroom. He emerged about an hour later. “Hey, Mom and Dad, I saw a post on Facebook from some guy who said that the Jacobs School of Music had postponed making scholarship decisions for vocal majors until April 7th. “

“Who is this guy?” we asked.

“I guess he’s a clarinet player who applied to Indiana, too.” Luke sounded hopeful, confident and optimistic.

Clearly he wasn’t ready to hear that his dream had been crushed. Clearly he was living in a little denial bubble to protect himself from the harsh truth. I knew better. I talked to a woman in the financial aid department. But who were we to pop that bubble? My husband and I decided to wait it out with him for another five days.

April 7th was during Spring Break so Luke slept in until about noon. He got on his computer right away to check his email.


He kept refreshing the page.


At 2:15 (5:15 in Indiana), I called the financial office again, but they had already closed for the day. See? There it is! No email, no phone call, nothing in the mailbox. He didn’t get a scholarship.

I was thinking about how to talk to Luke about the reality of his situation and how we need to accept the offer from the university in our town. He was sitting at the kitchen table with his laptop open. At 3:00 he said, “Oh, here it is.” Calm. Casual. Like, of course it’s here.

Certainly it wasn’t an email about a scholarship. It was probably a reminder to join their Facebook group or some other such step in the admissions process. I sat down next to Luke to see what this email had to say.

I was stunned. Shocked. It was a scholarship award letter. A significant scholarship. Enough so that he can go to Indiana University!

I asked Luke about his confidence and certainty. “Well, Mom, I knew my audition went well. I knew I did better than nothing.”

They say that the teacher learns from the student. And, I can attest, the parent learns from the child. Luke knew that he warranted a scholarship. Luke didn’t give up on his dream. Luke kept the faith and his confidence didn’t waver. What about you? Is there a situation in your life in which you doubt yourself, your abilities, or your talent? What do you know to be true? Even if this dream doesn’t manifest in the way you want, where can you influence your dream?