Teenager vs Parents: winning the college major argument

Let’s rewind to junior year of high school. At the time, I was smack in the middle of my music obsession phase, where I was staying up til 4am+ arranging or writing music. My parents were generally supportive of my interest in music, which made sense given my dad’s time in his high school glee club and my mom’s decades of teaching piano.

A common arguing point between me and my parents around that time was what I would major in in college. I’d started out high school thinking I wanted to be an engineer, but over the years my fervor for STEM had died down for various reasons, and given my interests at the time, high school junior Danny was sure he wanted to major in music. That Danny had a whole plan, too, about how he’d major in music then go onto law school to do music/entertainment law.

Even when I laid out my law school plans, my parents contested my choice of prospective major, their inner Asian parent prevailing despite their aforementioned background in music and the fact that they had both majored in the humanities. They said that majoring in music wouldn’t “instill in me the school of thought needed to prepare for law school.”

It was one of those topics of debate that came up fairly often with nothing really blowing up – at least, until something blew up. I think we were sitting at TGI Friday’s or some shit when the major topic came up yet again but with the proverbial shit hitting the fan, spoiling the mood for the evening. Knowing what I know now, I know I would’ve hated my life if I had been a music major, but at the time, I was fucking pissed. I had a plan, I knew what I wanted to do, my parents knew I was deeply involved with music, they had been supportive of my musical endeavors all this time, they knew I had law school plans for after undergrad, and they were still refusing to let me major in music in undergrad.

I can’t remember what the details were beyond what I’ve already said above, but what I do remember that is I went home that evening determined to prove my parents wrong, that I could major in music and go onto law school. Perhaps it’s my inner researcher, but I’ve always had a thing for collecting evidence in my favor and shoving it down the opposition’s throat; the opposition in this case being my parents, of course. I knew specific anecdotes of lawyers who had majored in music undergrad were going to be hard to find, especially since my Google-fu back then was nothing compared to what it is today. So I did the next best thing.

I stayed up well into the night looking up professors at various top law schools, with a particular interest in the ones whose emphases included music, the arts, and entertainment. I emailed 7 or 8 of them, explaining my background and interest in music, my desire to do music/entertainment law, and the arguments I was having with my parents about my college major. I asked if given my plans, majoring in music was a viable and wise choice, sincerely hoping that at least one of them would give me the ammunition stand tall in the face of my parents’ wishes.

Teenage minds being what they are, I sent off that email and forgot all about it for a week or two. To my pleasant surprise, I eventually received replies from not one but two professors at a certain T3, Ivy League law school that I shall leave unnamed here. They said:

“You should major in music if that is your passion. There are plenty of music majors who go on to law school here and elsewhere. If you want to go to law school, the most important thing is to get a solid undergraduate education and do well in school. Your best chance of doing well in school comes from enjoying what you’re studying. Therefore choosing what you enjoy will serve you best. That is my strongly held view.”

“Pursue the academic subjects you love, develop a passion for finding hard and real problems among people and then solving them, and couple such ambitions and plans with an embrace of the notion that a compass gives us the direction we desire precisely because we cannot tell it where to point.  If music is what you want to major in, great — that’s what will get you the most engaged and give you the most to talk about in a law school application.” 

With a shit-faced grin plastered on my face, I printed off these emails, handed one set to my parents, then walked over to my desk to post the other set on the wall.

Nothing more really needed to be said. I’m sure that’s one of the earliest moments when my parents thought I might have some idea what I’m doing with my life; they’ve certainly said as much. Looking back, I also think these emails contributed to my firm belief in the power of the pursuit of our individual passions. Sure, our specific passions might change over time as we grow and evolve as people, but there’s zero doubt in my mind that all the things I’ve fervently pursued at various phases of my life have naturally led and contributed to the next endeavor in such a way that gives each pursuit more depth and sophistication than what came before it.

There’s a relevant Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that’s always stuck with me: “There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. For of one will, the actions will be harmonious, however unlike they seem. These varieties are lost sight of at a little distance, at a little height of thought. One tendency unites them all. The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency. Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing. Act singly, and what you have already done singly will justify you now. Greatness appeals to the future. If I can be firm enough to-day to do right, and scorn eyes, I must have done so much right before as to defend me now. Be it how it will, do right now. Always scorn appearances, and you always may. The force of character is cumulative. All the foregone days of virtue work their health into this.”

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