My personal history with TMEA (the Texas Music Educator’s Association annual convention) goes back long before Ithaca College. I was a regular attendee there during my years in Boston, and in 2013, following a different viral episode (this time involving a piece of my writing that had hit the internet) I was invited to be their keynote speaker. It was Valentine’s Day 2013. Later that day, then-provost Marisa Kelly called to offer me the position as Dean of the IC School of Music. Already a great day, but the cherry on the sundae was that it was also my birthday. A lot of great things happened to me at TMEA in 2013!
As I planned my return the next year, it was natural for me to ask, “I wonder if Ithaca College has any alumni there?” We reached out to the Office of Alumni Relations, and spoke with faculty, and we determined that we might have a half-dozen or so. Working with Alumni Relations, we asked, “what should we do, perhaps meet for a drink or something?” They said, “well, with that few people, why not just arrange a small dinner. If you invite ten, you’ll get six, and it should be a manageable event for us to fund.” We set a restaurant, time and date, and then, just to be sure we didn’t miss anyone, we publicized the fact that we’d be hosting a dinner for IC alumni at TMEA and invited those who planned to attend to register.
About 40 people RSVP’d for dinner. We had to switch the reservation twice, ultimately taking over a small room at the restaurant. I maxed out the college credit card and had to put the balance on my own personal card. It was a beautiful evening, and we got to update alumni, find out more about their lives in Texas, and rekindle the power of the Ithaca community. It was also a lesson to me that we were underestimating the number, the power, the presence, and most importantly, the passion of our alumni spread all across the country. The Texas Miracle inspired us to create Councils of Advocates, groups of IC alumni all over the country, organized geographically, who maintain their engagement with the school and help us as we grow from Northeast to National.
It was at dinner with a COA member in Chicago where I heard, “you know, you’re not going to get students from the Midwest as education majors: people want to student teach in the same areas they want to work.” That told us we needed to establish student teacher placements (as well as apprenticeships for other majors) across the nation, and you (alumni, the COAs) helped us do that. You stepped forward in Houston and Dallas and Colorado and southern California to say, “I can take a student teacher” or “I’ve got a room in my house that someone can stay in for six weeks” or “I’d like an intern in my audio production company.” One of you said, “given what we have to choose from in my school district, not only would I take an Ithaca College student teacher—I would actively compete for one! Student teachers in our area are just learning how to teach; yours already know how to. If I take an IC music ed major, I’m getting a teacher, not a student.”
COA members have come to regional auditions and kept company with nervous parents and students. Pablo, in Los Angeles, and Nancy, in Dallas, helped students find the warm-up rooms, talked to them about their IC experience, and answered their questions. Eric helped us find a regional audition venue in Austin. When Hurricane Harvey devasted Houston in 2017 and flooded our planned audition venue, an e-mail inquiry to Texas COAs produced responses within one hour with folks offering alternate venues.
Donations of every kind, financial, service, and support, have come from all of you around the country, helping us expand programs geographically, providing employment opportunities for graduates, and developing new networks of high school students learning about Ithaca for the first time because of you. I’ve mentioned but a few specific contributions, but there are dozens of names I could mention—to all of you, from classes spanning back to the 60’s, from coast to coast, thank you, sincerely, for continuing and expanding the Ithaca family across miles and generations.