I lived in Virginia, in a neighborhood that was on the outskirts of the outskirts of a small town. It was October, I was turning nineteen, I had no money to speak of, and I was so sick and beyond miserable that I straight up told my mom that I was going to find a school in south Florida (for health reasons) that had a music school (since playing the piano was the only thing I thought I was good at) and that offered full-ride scholarships (because of the no-money thing) and was a Christian school. She laughed, a little bit sadly, I think, and went to bed.
Four hours of tedious internet searching later, it was 2 am and I was working through an alphabetized list of Christian schools in Florida. I don’t know if you have ever researched how many Christian colleges there are in Florida, but there are far more than there should be. I had clicked on hundreds of names only to find some really strange and sketchy institutions. Finally, one caught my eye – Palm Beach Atlantic University.
Having “beach” in the name certainly sounded very promising, but the website was a hundred times more convincing. The pictures made it seem like a five-star resort that also happened to offer classes. Their mission statement sounded solid and they had a music department. And then there it was – just a little sentence on the music page that made all the difference in the world: “Offering varied scholarships.” Varied scholarships means it could be a full-ride. Most schools will give an exact number. Usually “up to $3000” for “very promising students.” I hadn’t had lessons in two years (the no-money thing, remember?) but the word varied was enough to propel me into completing the application right then and there. I wrote my essay and submitted it with the $50 fee (saved from my babysitting days) at 3:30 a.m.
I told my parents the next day and the whole thing seemed so far-fetched that they didn’t even bother telling me it wasn’t going to happen. How would I even get the airfare to fly down to West Palm Beach to audition? I didn’t know, but I signed up for the last possible audition date to give myself some time to figure it out. I started practicing piano again incessantly. I organized a program from pieces I had already learned and polished them up as best I could without a teacher. I signed up for an audition at a local university for practice. I bombed that audition. (I got in – but barely, and with not even the hope of any merit scholarship.)
There was no doubt that I was putting everything I had into trying to make Palm Beach Atlantic University become more real than a pretty website. But it wasn’t enough. However, I had some pretty stellar people in my life that filled in the gaps. My uncle flew me down to audition – and took a detour through Disney to calm my nerves! The school was slightly less stunning than the website, but it was real. Everyone was so nice and helpful. The tour convinced me that I could really live there and be part of the school.
But it really all came down to that audition. They hurried me into the recital hall right after the tour. It was a smallish, dark room with a lovely Steinway on stage and two judges waiting to hear me play. One was the Dean of Music and Fine Arts and the other was the piano-teacher legend, Mrs. Woodward-Cooper.
I played a Haydn Sonata (very fast and lively!), a Chopin nocturne in C# Minor (epically tragic), and a Bach Prelude and Fugue in E Major. All of it was quite all right, but the very shining star of the whole program was the piece I’d been struggling with for months – the fugue. Somehow, for the very first time ever (and so far, the last time ever), I put my fingers on the keys and they magically knew exactly what to do. It was like someone else was playing through me – and I’m not entirely sure that there wasn’t someone else playing through me that day.
There was a short interview afterwards, where I found out that Mrs. Woodward-Cooper also had a history of asthma and other health problems similar to mine. Following that there was a Chick-Fil-A lunch with the faculty and other auditionees, a theory test, and then it was over. We drove over the bridge to Palm Beach so I could write my name in the sand and put my feet in the ocean. I had no idea if I’d ever see that beach again, but I prayed.
A few days later I got a phone call saying that I was accepted to the music school and that I had received a sizable scholarship. A couple weeks later I got a call from McDonald’s offering me a summer job. My mom drove me every morning at 5am that summer so I could work 40 hours a week at $7.25 an hour. And with a little bit more help from my uncle, I did see that beach again. Five years later, I’ve graduated from that school, and I call West Palm Beach my home.
And that’s the story of how I came from having no money, no prospects, and very poor health to being an alumnus of a life-changing private school in south Florida. It was Divine Providence, honestly, and the support of my family. There’s absolutely no reason why I should have found PBA or found the money to fund my education, except that it was miraculously influenced by a God much bigger than I can fathom. And it’s because of this story that I knew that somehow or other, I would make it through this summer financially. I have seen bigger miracles accomplished than finding rent money. I’ve seen bigger miracles than even finding PBA, but this is my favorite one to tell.