By John Harriss ’15
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to great work is to love what you do.” — Steve Jobs, Stanford University commencement ceremony, June 12th, 2005
When we think about what we want to major in at college, the question most of us end up asking ourselves what we want to do with the rest of our lives. That’s not what college is about. College is about pursuing your passions, your interest, and (ultimately) learning more about yourself.
I look at people like my aunt, who majored in psychology at the University of Delaware. She is now the VP of Online Originals for Disney Interactive. Or Dr. Annemarie Farrell, chair of the Sport Management and Media department at Ithaca College, who graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a political science degree, and now she is one of our favorite professors in the Sport Management and Media department. My point? College degrees don’t dictate our future.
Ithaca College alum Brad Kolodner ’12 is a great example of this. Having graduated with a Television-Radio degree and Sport Studies minor, you would think that he is a production assistant at ESPN, or at least a media member somewhere in the world of sports. Nope, he plays the banjo with his dad.
It all started at Meadowlark, a folk music camp in Maine in 2007. “I went to the camp expecting to hang out and not take any of the music classes very seriously,” Brad recalls. “I wanted to sign up for what I thought would be the easiest classes like harmonica, tin whistle and singing. I took the harmonica class and the singing class but the tin whistle class was full. As a result, my only other option at that point was to take the banjo class. The rest is history.”
But Brad’s music career started well before 2007. In 1999, as a fourth grader at the Friends School of Baltimore, Brad played cello in the orchestra. “My mom played cello,” he says, “so I figured I’d give it a shot.” It would be Brad’s instrument for the next eight years, concluding after his senior year at Friends in 2008.
Here at Ithaca College, we have the James J. Whalen School of Music, a program that attracts a lot of aspiring musicians — except Brad. He is not that type of musician. As he told me, “the banjo is a free instrument. Not in respect to money, but in how the music is arranged. You don’t have to worry about sharps, flats, accidentals, or even sheet music. You just go, it’s improv. The banjo is an instrument that allows you to explore — it doesn’t keep you tied to a schedule like the cello does.”
But Brad’s degree has not gone to complete waste. In college he hosted “The Hobo’s Lullaby” on WICB once a week, and now he is a bluegrass DJ on WAMU 88.5 in Washington DC.
Between commuting to DC, having to book gigs, giving banjo lessons, and at the end of the day still having some time for other passions like playing squash, Brad is a busy man. But it’s his Ithaca College experiences that prepared him for what he does today: “I learned a lot through my extracurriculars at Ithaca,” he recalls, “because more than anything they had, in the education itself, how to be organized and on top of things”. And Brad says that is the most important thing you can learn in college. Organizing concerts, square dances, and jam sessions, Brad does what he has to do to make money when he can.
He knows that his success, and failure are on him. “I just can’t rely on somebody else to give me instructions and tell me what to do.” he says. “I have to be my own boss, and with that you have a lot of responsibility, but also [the] free time and flexibility to be able to do what I want.” Just as is the case in any job, Brad acknowledges that being an advocate for yourself is key. We laugh because every time he creates a Facebook event for one of his concerts, he invites me even though he knows I’m five hours away and won’t come. He says it’s a way to let people know what you’re up to, and make them aware of what you’re doing. He says you send out invitations to everyone, the events spreads via word of mouth, and by concert time, there could be people there that you don’t know and didn’t invite. Moral of the story? Allow others to help you because you ever know what they can do for you.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect the dots looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, life, destiny, karma, whatever because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path. And that will make all the difference.” — Steve Jobs, Stanford University commencement ceremony, June 12th, 2005
Brad’s story is a great example of how we should approach our time in college, and beyond. Study something that interests you, but don’t allow it to dictate how the rest of your life is spent because, as Steve Jobs said, your time is limited. Do what you love to do and follow your dreams. If your college degree helps you do that, great. If not, who cares. Pursue your passion. Money is a factor in the decision-making process, of course. But it should never be the deciding factor; otherwise we would all want to be doctors and lawyers. But some of us want to be teachers, musicians, and even sportscasters. Who cares what it is, as long as you enjoy it. Even if you want to become a professional musician, like Brad, you have to go for it, and go for it 100%, and enjoy every minute of it.
“I appreciate and enjoy the grind,” Brad says. “I have to fall in love with the grind in order to create opportunities for myself. For most people, the end result of their job is a paycheck, but with me, I get more than that because I enjoy it.”