Many seniors are finding their future in the arts to be a bright one


courtesy of Abby Nguyen

Pictured above is senior Abby Nguyen with the rest of her cast at the end of a program show. Nguyen is going to pursue a career in professional dance.

As the class of 2020 graduates and matriculates, many talented seniors are pursuing the arts in college and changing the narrative of success in a conversation that is often dominated by STEM majors. 

Cal High senior Abigail Nguyen, who plans on studying dance through the Ailey/Fordham Program in New York, said that there is a stigma around art majors.

“People don’t see it as a career because it’s not academic to them,” Nguyen said. “But dance showed me what I’m capable of physically and taught me commitment and work ethic. My studio is very nurturing and supportive but it’s hard to train 20 plus hours every week. It’s hard to stare in a mirror and basically keep picking out flaws.”

Nguyen, who has been dancing for 16 years, said that she started considering a career in professional dance toward her sophomore year and decided to put more into it.

“Sometimes I wish I loved something that wasn’t an art, but I just love it so much,” Nguyen said. “[Dance] has taught me who I am as a person.”

For many students, a science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) major may seem like the default, a field they’re expected to pursue. 

Senior Jenny Cho, who plans to study art and media at Swarthmore College, described how it took her a while to decide where her interests laid.

“I was thinking of going into a STEM major before, but it wasn’t the thing for me,” Cho said. “I realized that I was fixated on the prestige it had, but that I wouldn’t be happy doing it.”

This may be because the arts and other creative majors are seen as easier, less lucrative studies. If STEM is at the top of the pedestal, art is often viewed as being a catch-all for the academically disinclined. Many people discourage their children from becoming arts majors.

But senior Brandon Amor, who plans on studying music production at Berklee College of Music in Massachusetts, believes that art has an underappreciated role in society.

“It plays a larger role than people realize,” Amor said. “For example, music is something that’s inside everyone. It’s not only a form of entertainment, but it’s a form of expression and an outlet. It does wonders for bringing people together. Why else would we have a national anthem?”

Like Nguyen, Amor honed in on his field of interest after freshman year. He said that as he performed more and interacted with other musicians, he began to network and see music as a viable career path.

“A lot of being successful in the music industry is business and marketing,” Amor said. “Hearing about that and knowing it was a job opportunity made me feel safe in pursuing it. Because of the scene in music right now, there are so many platforms to share your music. Right now, it’s easy to create because there’s always an audience as long as you know how to market yourself.”

Senior Fox Wong, who plans to study art and graphic design at UC Santa Cruz in the fall, disagrees with the common school of thought that there are not many careers in art.

“Art is around us 24/7,” Wong said. “Look at branding or advertisements. It’s necessary in modern society, but it’s also timeless. You can find jobs anywhere.”

In particular, Wong espoused the importance of passion and independence. Currently, he designs and prints clothing and hosts his own art shows.

“I’m always doing stuff on the side and doing my own thing,” Wong said. “With the clothing I sell, I always screenprint my own stuff. But you also have to have a true passion for it. There’s times where you get burned out and freak out and you’re not sure if it’s your thing. Make sure your heart’s in it.”

Many aspiring artists are no stranger to doubt. From parental or social pressure to internal uncertainties, it surrounds them. 

Senior Allison Yolland plans on majoring in dance at UC Irvine. Yolland’s dance journey started 15 years ago, and she said that she’s developed a lot and worked to conquer insecurities.

“Dance is a very critical art,” Yolland said. “Last year, I focused on finding my confidence, and that’s what pushed me to pursue art. Every dancer is their own artist, and it’s not about comparing yourself, it’s about being inspired by them.”

Students who plan on pursuing the arts in college often must submit supplemental materials to their application. This may include in-person auditions, recordings, a portfolio, and additional essays. But Yolland said that shouldn’t discourage students who want to pursue a career in the arts.

“Don’t be intimidated by the process of college applications or auditions,” Yolland said. “You have to embrace the process and appreciate it.”

Cho believes that the best strategy is to talk to all sorts of people, including  teachers, college students, and professionals. She said that they have lots of advice to provide, and they’re willing to prevent young artists from making their same mistakes. 

“Another thing that could help is to bring more exposure to projects or the arts as a whole to bring help to students and give them the push that they need,” said Cho.

Added Nguyen, “Everyone has their own path. Pursue yours.”