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The spring class of 2020 hasn’t had a traditional conclusion to their studies, but they do have a lot of great stories.

Over the summer months we’ll be profiling some of them.

Ricardo Quiñonez

Ricardo QuinonezDegree earned – Double Major in Music Education and Music Performance (Tuba)

Hometown/High School: Aurora IL / East Aurora High School 

What are some of your best memories of your time at NIU?
It’s hard to really think of specific memories that stand out. My time at NIU wasn’t defined by big events, it was the little things I’ll remember. Times I spend between classes in the music building lobby drinking coffee with friends either doing homework or goofing off. Spending nights watching TV longer than I should have and having to wake up early enough to walk my dogs while still making it to class on time. All the time spent finding new things to do with my girlfriend. More than anything though, my piece of junk Suzuki Sidekick. 

It’s all the little moments that come to mind when I think of my time at NIU. Sure there were big events here and there, but the memories I’ll cherish most are the moments that happened in my day to day life. 

What’s next for you?
I’m planning on being a band director. I enjoy music, I want to teach, and being able to go into this profession is something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. I’ve got an offer I’ve accepted, but until I sign all the paperwork I’m keeping it a bit hush. 

What is one piece of advice or something you learned that you know you’ll be leaning on as you start the next phase of your career or education?
That I don’t know everything and never will. I think too often people assume because they are knowledgeable about a topic (whether they’ve earned a degree, worked in the field for a long time, or educated themselves in some way) that we tend to have a hard time stepping back and looking at things from different perspectives. I’m going to be certified to teach K-12 music, but that doesn’t make me an expert in it. There are things I’m comfortable with and uncomfortable related to music, and that’s ok. The drive to continue learning and growing as both a musician AND educator is what will help me succeed. I won’t know everything, and I never will, but I’ll always continue to grow and learn in some way to better myself for my students. 

How was your experience at NIU different than what you expected when you started?
Honestly, for a long time I was never planning on going to college. I didn’t really care about school. The plan was to start working as early as I can, make it my priority, and MAYBE graduate. Because of that, I didn’t put much effort into my classes, failed a lot, and didn’t have the full education I should have when I graduated. It wasn’t until my late junior/early senior year of high school I decided to take school in general a bit more serious.

I didn’t decide on pursuing music until December of my senior year and because of that, everything went by fast and kind of fell into place. The only expectation I had was that I’ll graduate in four years, and that didn’t happen. There were definitely classes I struggled with and failed at NIU because I didn’t develop many of the basic learning skills I needed during high school (and that’s not anybody’s fault but my own).

I didn’t really know how to write a paper. Time management/organization were skills introduced to me during freshman year of college. It took me a long time to figure out how to study in a way I would actually retain information and even still, it doesn’t really work as well as I feel it should. While the only real expectation I had didn’t happen, looking back it was definitely for the best. I had more opportunities to take things a bit slower and find what worked for me. I got to grow and mature a bit more both as a person and as an educator which helped me realize how much I truly want to do what I’m doing. 

If you could thank someone (or more than one person) that you didn’t get a chance to thank before you left, who would it be, and what would you say?
During my last semester I was student teaching. Usually, we have little contact with our supervisors and professors during this time. With the COVID pandemic happening, we were able to meet more often than we would have otherwise, with gave our student teaching group a chance to meet with our music ed professors/coordinators on a weekly basis. I know we said sorta said goodbyes already, but thank you Lynn [Retherford], Dr. [Mary Lynn} Doherty, and Dr. [Christine] D’Alexander for all the help through this program! 

The one person I haven’t had a chance to thank is my tuba professor, Scott Tegge. For four years we had weekly hour long lessons plus studio classes when possible. He’s been an inspiration to me, a huge mentor, and the person at NIU who I could go to about anything. He cares about his students, he is always finding ways to grow and better himself, and has this crazy drive that you don’t see in just anybody. Scott, my pride will never let me say this in person (just like yours won’t ever let you stop teasing me about my dogs), but you’ve been more impactful in my development than anyone else. The things I’ve learned from you both about music and life are things that will start with me for the rest of my life. It’s been an honor to be your student at NIU and I’ll always be thankful for having such an awesome mentor like you.

What are some of the things you are most proud of from your time at NIU?
My junior and senior recitals. My junior recital was special because it’s the first time I was able to perform solo literature for friends and family. I didn’t realize how different performing like that would be compared to playing in ensembles, which caught me off guard. My senior recital was the culmination of all the work I had put in at NIU and I was able to showcase that to friends and family. That recital was a bit easier in the sense that I felt a bit more comfortable in that environment but it still felt surreal. Neither performance was perfect, there were lots of mistakes throughout, but I put my all into the music and left happy with the results of my work. 

If you could give some advice to the high school class of 2020 who will be starting at NIU in the fall, what would it be?
My soapbox advice is to put your all into what you’re doing. You came came to study something you’re passionate and care about and because of that, do everything you can to succeed in it. Take the extra time to study for that class you don’t like but know is important. Find those outside opportunities that sound interesting and take them no matter how big or small. Make friends with similar interests and ideals and do your best to help get each other through your field. You might doubt yourself along the way, and that’s ok. Do everything you can and make sure at the end of the day, you feel like you’re going in the right direction, even if that means finding a different trajectory and career goal. It goes quicker than you realize so do what you can to make sure you finish where you want to. 

On a more serious note, don’t think “all you can eat” in the dining halls, think “all you should eat”. Eat a vegetable once in a while cause I sure didn’t. 

Anything else?
You know, it ’s weird. If you ask anybody who I’m close with they’d probably tell you to ask me about how much being the first college graduate in my family feels like, or how being a first generation citizen impacts me/my decision to go to school/my experience at NIU. Ask my extended family and they’ll tell you to ask “why music?”, usually followed by “why not major in something else”. A bunch of (in my opinion) weirdly specific questions. I don’t really have an answer for any of those, we could have long conversations about any of the above, and if anybody really wanted to reach out and ask I’d be more than willing to have that conversation. Ultimately, my responses boil down to this. 

I decided to do what I want, study what I want, and go into a a career that I want. It wasn’t easy and there were definitely doubts along the way, even still to this day. I don’t know what exactly the future holds, but I’m going to put my all into whatever it is I plan to do and I hope that I can get my students, or anybody else for that matter, to see that they can do whatever they want to too.

Keep an eye out for more profiles of the NIU College of Visual and Performing Arts class of 2020.