Everyone has a different academic journey at Northwestern. However, I do always like to point out on my tours that I feel Northwestern is a place for exploration. That is why you’ll find so many students doing so many different things. We are never stuck with one major or program. The transition of one major to another or just declaring something new is simply done through signing a piece of paper. It’s that easy! I think I can definitely say I’ve become quite familiar with that slip of paper.

I came to Northwestern knowing that I would be a Theatre major. This wasn’t some big dream I’d had all of my life. Full disclosure, I actually visited the Bienen School of Music when I first came to Northwestern. At that point in time I really had no idea what I wanted to do. What I did know, though, was that I loved to sing! Bienen obviously has a great Vocal Performance program, but the idea of having to audition and having to do opera scared me away. That’s just something that didn’t appeal to me. By the end of the day, we knew I would have to come back to look at the Theatre program.

Therefore, a few months later, I came back to campus with my mom. We were prepping to go visit a techniques class taught by David Bell when I met Justin Schuman outside of the Wirtz Center. We immediately hit it off. He was from Long Island, like me, and he offered to show us the way to the classroom. The class was amazing! People were just singing musical theatre songs and acting them in front of each other…and it was a class! It was incredible to see something I love in a classroom setting. We didn’t have anything like it in high school. I knew at that moment that I wanted to major in Theatre at Northwestern.

Once I got here, I knew that I had to double major in something. There were so many good things to do and since I had so many interests, theoretically, this was the perfect opportunity. The first thing I set my sights on was Psychology. Since I loved my AP Psych class from high school, I felt this was something that would really fit me. The first class I took was a cognitive psychology class. Of all the classes for me to take, this was just not the right one. I’m definitely not the type of person who loves the scientific side to anything. I was more interested in the psychology used in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

I pushed through that class, but didn’t declare a double major. The next stop I took was in the French department. I took French throughout high school and Paris is one of my favorite places in the world. I loved the French classes I took, but I soon realized these were not necessarily classes that I wanted to spend my time doing either. So, after my second French class here, I once and for all decided that I did not want to be a French major or minor.

I should mention by this point in time, I had auditioned for the Musical Theatre Certificate program. After receiving acceptance, I began to work on what I loved. It was why I had come to this school in the first place after all. With my continued involvement in the program, I continued to question my wavering interest in Psychology. I declared my major finally in the middle of my second year, but I knew it wasn’t my love. Eventually I realized how little interest I had in it.

I decided at that point in time that I did not want to have a second major. It was a hard thing for my parents or myself to accept. I mean, a huge reason I came to Northwestern was the many academic opportunities! However, after some soul searching, I realized my time dabbling in other areas allowed me to realize how right I was to major in Theatre.

During the winter quarter of my second year, I was cast in James and the Giant Peach, which was part of the Imagine U Theatre for Young Audiences series. This changed my view on theatre. Rives Collins sparked a passion in me that I’d always had. I wanted to do theatre for children! That spring, I decided I wanted to take the Theatre for Young Audiences class during the fall.

Over the summer between my second and third years, I did some calculating. I only needed two credits in order to graduate with a Psychology minor. This was shocking to me, but interestingly enough, they were two credits I also needed for my Theatre major. Well, there was the answer to everything I’d been worried about! I was going to be a Theatre major and Psychology minor with a certificate in Musical Theatre! I was doing multiple things at Northwestern. I finally thought I had satisfied that itch to explore and learn. However, there was one thing that was missing.

In the fall, I took that first Theatre for Young Audiences class and I fell in love. After a meeting with Rives, we both felt that the Theatre for Young Audiences module would be the perfect way to truly narrow down what I wanted to do with my life. Being a teaching artist now really seems to be a career I’m interested in. All of these revelations were made possible by Northwestern and the quarter system. As I said already, Northwestern is a place for exploration, and I think with my major, minor, certificate, and module, I finally am able to say I am pursuing all of my passions here. And fun fact: I’ll be graduating on time!

–Justin Tepper

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