Tuition to Eastman

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“Tuition to Eastman,” Ensign, Oct. 1981, 65–66

Tuition to Eastman

As I stood in line at the treasurer’s window, my dream of attending the Eastman School of Music had now become nightmarish. I had no money for tuition.

Although I had been forced to drive fifty-four hours straight from Utah to get to the audition in Rochester, New York, and hadn’t laid a bow to my violin for two months, I had somehow survived. And although the corrective markings on my entrance exams in music history and theory were so heavy I could barely read the original markings (I had given little thought to these subjects for over three years), still, I had gotten through. Now what? I had not concerned myself with the exact cost of tuition, knowing that it was well beyond my capacity at the moment.

The line grew shorter. Soon it was my turn.

“This is your bill for tuition, Mr. Dalton,” the spectacled matron behind the barred window said.

“I’m sorry,” I replied, “I don’t have any money.”

She looked at me in silence. “Well,” she said, “it isn’t very often we have students go to school here without paying for it. You had better see the dean.”

In the adjoining office I found a grey-haired lady with a benevolent smile. “What can I do for you?” the dean asked.

“I have had a strong desire to come to Eastman for a long time,” I told her. “The school has a reputation unexcelled in the country, and I have friends who have been students here and some who still are. They highly recommend the program. There are Eastman graduates in all the leading professional orchestras in the country. Eastman alumni count as some of the leading composers, teachers, and administrators, and. …” I stopped. I wasn’t telling her anything she didn’t already know.

“Dean, I’m sorry. The fact is that quite to my amazement I have passed the audition and all the examinations. I’ve been admitted—I’m here—and I don’t have any money.”

She looked quizzically at me over her glasses. “No money? Then you must be either foolish, audacious, or perhaps brave. This is, of course, rather serious. You have no savings?”

“You see,” I ventured cautiously, “I’m a Mormon, and for the past few years I’ve been serving the Church as a missionary in Germany. I was supported entirely by my parents, who sent me a subsistence allowance, and I had no income of my own.” (At this point I couldn’t tell whether she was interested or perplexed.) “I got off the boat in New York a month ago, went out West and was married, took a short honeymoon, and when the opportunity came to audition, I drove right back here to Rochester. I’ve honestly not had the time to be too concerned about money, not until right now. We have enough for two weeks’ groceries, and our landlady is letting us stay in our apartment rent-free for the first month. Donna is going to teach in the public schools. We’ll have some income in about a month.” It suddenly occurred to me that I was pleading my case with some fervor.

“So you were a Mormon missionary? Well, well.” The dean relaxed and her smile was more than polite now. “I must tell you that a couple of years ago, when I was returning by ship from Europe, I fell into the company of two of the nicest young gentlemen I have ever met. They had the most admirable manners and decorum: solicitous, attentive, personable but not overbearing, and slightly inclined to take themselves too seriously. Nevertheless, they were as fine young men as I hope to meet.

“Now I know something about your work, and if you were a Mormon missionary, it is quite understandable that you find yourself in financial straits. Yours seems to have been a worthwhile endeavor, and I will see to it that a way is worked out where you can meet your commitments to the school. How would you like to pay your tuition—piecemeal, that is, as you go, or in arrears as you are able?”

By this time I was offering silent prayers of thanks for those two anonymous elders.

“We have a policy at this school,” the dean continued, “of not offering scholarships during a student’s first year of residence. But if your performance is good enough, you might qualify for some assistance next year. Best wishes to you.”

I floated out of the dean’s office, a heavy burden lifted from my soul.

The blessings continued. I didn’t have to wait a full year for financial help. At the end of the first semester, I received notice from the director informing me that I had qualified for a full tuition fellowship for the next semester. The scholarship was renewed in my four succeeding years. Part of that depended, of course, on my own efforts—but I’ve never forgotten that I was building on a foundation laid by two missionaries I’ll never be able to thank personally.