Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.
Annie Villalobos Vincent has been waiting 20 years to achieve her dream and receive her college degree.
Vincent’s academic journey began after high school when she attended a few classes each semester at several community colleges beginning in 2000. She first attended Arizona State University in the summer of 2006, balancing her academic schedule and family life for one year as a music audition major. During that time, she also taught in the School of Music’s String Project.
With growing family responsibilities and personal hurdles along the way, Vincent decided to take a break from her studies for several years to care for her two young children and help support her family while her husband attended law school. When she was able to go back to school, she started taking classes again at community colleges, with the aim to transfer back to ASU to complete her degree. Now she is graduating from ASU summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Music in music education and with a Music Education Teacher Certification.
“I always wanted to go back to school, so when my son was in kindergarten, I began to put things in motion to do just that,” Vincent said. “It had then been more than 10 years since I had been in school, and getting back into playing instruments and coursework was rough.”
When Vincent graduates in May it will be exactly 20 years since she finished high school, but she will be doing exactly what she has always wanted to do — teaching and making music.
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Answer: In 2004 upon being recommended, I received a phone call asking if I would be willing to take over as a long-term substitute for middle school orchestra while the teacher was on maternity leave. Since I did not have a bachelor’s degree, I was granted an emergency substitute certificate and suddenly I was there at the open house greeting parents and running a classroom for the entire semester. This experience showed me that I loved teaching music in a group setting and from then on, I planned to get my degree in music education someday.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: I learned that I am too stubborn to quit, and that it is ok to fail at things! I had so many goals for myself when I made the decision to return to school and finish my degree, but sometimes life makes a different plan for you. I had something major happen in my life, either personally or within my close family, every single semester. I experienced challenges from my daughter being diagnosed with a rare cancer, to chronic pain and inflammation in my left hand that kept me from playing the violin, to a loved one’s suicide attempt. Any one of those events could have derailed my studies, but I continued to persevere. Graduating summa cum laude has taken a lot of work, and balancing it with my family life has been really hard at times, but I am really proud of myself for achieving this goal.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: ASU has a wonderful music school with faculty from whom I was excited to learn. It was also important to me as a wife and mother to young children to be able to be there for my family while attending school, so proximity was also a factor.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: I had so many incredible professors while at ASU! Dr. Sandra Stauffer’s class on Children’s Music was the highlight of my week for the semester that I was enrolled. I learned that there is a cultural responsibility to be fulfilled through music and that music is natural and should be accessible to all, regardless of their background, demographic or socioeconomic status. I also learned that children are inherently creative beings. We did so many activities each class that were designed to help us identify with our future students but in the end, I learned so much about myself! By the end of the semester, I understood myself better as a person and in my roles as both a teacher and parent.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you would give to those still in school?
A: Take a class for fun outside of your major map! Take this time to grow and learn more about yourself as a person. Don’t overschedule yourself, and learn to say no. Relationships with your friends, colleagues and faculty are important.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: My favorite place is the School of Music courtyard. This “courtyard community” is so special. I loved sitting there eating lunch, chatting with friends on the way to class, or just people watching. A close second are these raised carpeted areas on the second floor of the music building connecting the west and east wings, I loved to catch up with friends or just sit and look out over the city.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I would love to go on a trip with my husband and kids to celebrate this milestone as they all worked so hard to help me succeed! I would really love to work in public school teaching elementary band or strings.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I really have no idea how far that amount of money could go in helping out our world, but I would love to use that money to help with access to clean water and sanitation around the world. We are so blessed here in our country, and I would love to see that kind of life-changing opportunity be spread around the globe.