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Stomping the Yard

Your Dreams are Valid: Life Lessons from Lupita

A look at Black stars on the red carpet at the Oscars.

Calling all college students!  Our new weekly column, Stomping the Yard, aims to help undergrads excel in their studies and social lives.  JETmag.com’s team of experts will show you how to get it done from the day you move into the dorms to the minute you step off campus for that first job. Submit questions and feedback for The Yard via digitalpitches@ebony.com.

If there is one question many college students would like to avoid, it’s “What’s your major?” It seems like a relatively simple question, but in fact, it’s one loaded with social consequences.

The answer to this question can result in either acceptance and approval, or skepticism and judgment. In my years of teaching, I find that students tend to fall into one of three major categories: 1) Those who know exactly what they want to do and have received approval and validation from their parents and peers; 2) Those who are completely undecided and can’t seem to focus on something they’re willing to commit to; or 3) those who are passionate about a major that many consider a waste of time and money.

Students in the latter category are usually subject to questions of doubt and disapproval: “What are you going to do with that?” “How much money does that pay?” “What are the odds that you’ll actually succeed in that field?” “What’s your backup plan?”

As a result, students start to doubt  themselves, question their choices, and many opt to abandon their dreams in favor of something “safe,” “acceptable” and “more practical.” If Lupita Nyong’o had done that, millions would not have witnessed her accept the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress at the 86th Annual Academy Awards ceremony this past Sunday.

The 12 Years a Slave actress had one of those majors that many tuition-paying parents would question; however, she graduated from Hampshire College with a bachelor’s degree in film and theater, and continued her education at the Yale School of Drama, graduating in 2012 with a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree.

The closing line of Nyong’o’s Oscar acceptance speech, “No matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid” punctuates her decision to pursue her passion rather than what many would consider a more sensible option.

Getty/AFP Kevin Winters

Getty/AFP Kevin Winters

There is a lesson here for college students as well, particularly those who are especially gifted in the arts. Though well-intentioned, sometimes the people who love and support us have a very narrow definition of success. For them, success tends to mean a well-paying job at an established company with benefits and a predictable schedule. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

However, there is no “one size fits all” model for college success, or success after college. Without writers, composers, sound engineers, producers, filmmakers, and actors, the world could not bear witness to the type of brilliance and artistic execution that earned 12 Years a Slave the Oscar for Best Picture or that makes Thursday nights a shared experience for millions who watch Kerry Washington, a performing arts graduate of George Washington University, deliver lines from a script written by Shonda Rhimes, an English and creative writing graduate of Dartmouth University, on Scandal.

College is an opportunity for students to practice and hone their craft, understand their discipline, and grow from novice to expert. When students dream beyond corporate America by becoming a film director, performing on Broadway, or writing the score for a major motion picture, that dream is valid and worthy of pursuit. The key is to leverage every opportunity in college to grow as an artist, learn from professionals, and build relationships that can expand their artistic career well beyond their degree.

About Dr. Shante Bishop

Photo Credit: Jeremiah-Phinally Phocused

Photo Credit: Jeremiah-Phinally Phocused

Getting TO college is one thing; Getting THROUGH college is quite another. That’s why Dr. Shante’ Bishop offers strategic advice on being successful both in and out of the classroom. From catalogs to cap and gown, Professor Bishop shares what it takes to ‘Stomp the Yard” with confidence and clarity! You can follow Dr. Bishop on FacebookYouTube and Twitter.