YOLA Takes College

YOLA's graduating class of 2019 (pictured above) is its largest yet with 47 students finishing high school this spring. Six of them - Madison Centeno, Jonathan Antonio, Patrick Franco, Magy Hernandez, Diana Meza, and Jackie Rodriguez - shared their stories with us. 

MADISON CENTENO  Site: YOLA at HOLA  Instrument: Oboe  Attending: California State University, Long Beach (Cal State Long Beach)  Major: Oboe Performance 

What are you most excited about for college?  I am excited and nervous to start a new chapter in life. I am thrilled that I will be pursuing a career in music performance. I am excited to meet new people who will eventually become my family. I enjoy being involved [with groups], so I am excited to explore different organizations and maybe partake in some that interest me. I also look forward to gaining musical knowledge and learning how to be independent and make decisions on my own. I am most excited for the resources and opportunities that I will seek out, like studying abroad. 

I know that on my path to success I will face challenges and fail, but along that path I am determined to work hard and learn from different experiences. Even though I am very nervous for my future, I just hope I find solace just like that I have enjoyed through YOLA!  

What is your favorite YOLA memory? Overall every moment spent with YOLA has been my favorite. Every day I created infinite memories no matter what the circumstances. However, my absolute favorite was the first YOLA Cal Tour in 2016. This tour was particularly extraordinary and magical because every student grew together. The tour brought everyone from the different YOLA sites to do the one thing we love: perform music. The best part was that I earned enduring relationships with friends and teaching artists, who will always have a special place in my heart.   

What did you learn during your time in YOLA that you are going to take with you?  I have learned many things that I could talk about all day, but something YOLA has really instilled in me is having the ability to be open-minded, positive, and determined. Before joining YOLA, I used to be very timid and reserved, but throughout my nine-year commitment with YOLA, I have learned that stepping out of my comfort zone is beneficial. Through different scenarios I learn new strategies and gifts I never realized I have.  

Today, I express what I believe, approach people, and seek out opportunities that help me become a better person. Just recently, I reached out to one of the administrative people at my school (Palisades Charter High School), because I heard she was an alumna from Cal State Long Beach. Now, I have a meeting with her so she can tell me about her experience and put me in contact with her friends who are professors there. In college, I will take this strategy and use it to reach out to my future professors and others when I have concerns and crave information. 

Madison is pictured bottom row, fourth from right.

Site: YOLA at EXPO Center 
Instrument: Tuba 
Attending: University of Southern California (USC) 
Major: Mechanical Engineering  

What are you most excited about for college? 
I’m most excited about the opportunity to work closely with people who may not be studying the same major as me, because I’m interested in their ability to tackle the same problems from different angles—the interdisciplinary work. I think [this approach] is really important because a lot of today’s challenges are not binary and have an impact on numerous aspects of life.  

What is your favorite YOLA memory? 
My favorite YOLA memory was playing with Los Tigres del Norte. We ate pizza, got ice cream, watched a movie all in the same day, AND played with Los Tigres. It was incredible.  

What did you learn during your time in YOLA that you are going to take with you? 
I learned to take advantage of every opportunity I have the slightest interest in. Most of my opportunities came as a result of curiosity.  

Jonathan is pictured top row, first on right.

Site: YOLA at Torres 
Instrument: Trumpet 
Attending: California State University, Los Angeles (Cal State LA) 
Major: Undeclared – I’m taking my first year to explore music and technology. 

What are you most excited about for college? 
I’m excited to be on my own and learning alongside many other freshmen who have different goals and drives. Since Cal State is offering me the best financial plan, I will be able to live in the dorms and experience college in its traditional fashion. New experiences excite me most of all. 

What is your favorite YOLA memory? 
In the short time I have been in YOLA, I have been able to rekindle my musical flame, which, for a good year (before I began YOLA), had slowly been going out. Not for lack of interest, but for lack of competition. I'm inspired to work harder when I see others around me, whether they are friends, colleagues, or strangers. Thus, my favorite memory of YOLA isn't one in particular—there are many great ones—but my overall experience of going to practice and enjoying the different characters/personalities, along with the music that is both challenging and enjoyable. 

What did you learn during your time in YOLA that you are going to take with you? 
In my time at YOLA I learned that with the proper motivation and mentoring anyone can improve upon their skills—whether it is music, art, math, etc. It’s just about finding the right environment to motivate yourself in the activity you enjoy doing. 

Patrick is pictured top row, fifth from the left.

Site: YOLA at EXPO Center
Instrument: Viola
Attending: The Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University
Major: Viola Performance

What are you most excited about for Peabody?
When I do music camps, I’m excited to get out to meet new people, expand my musical skills, and get out of my comfort zone. The longer the music camp, the better I become acquainted with the musical world outside of YOLA. It shows me my flaws and makes me want to improve my playing and my personality. Peabody is like a four-year summer camp and a new chapter of my life, which I’m ready to begin. But most of all, I am ready to encounter the hard repertoire! It’s very rewarding when we can enjoy the fruits of our hard labor. 

What is your favorite YOLA memory?
Playing in marvelous opportunities with the LA Phil or Gustavo Dudamel will always be my most cherished memories. To add on, besides the incredible concerts, I love meeting YOLA students from all of the sites. I made some of the most amazing friends in these gatherings. YOLA gave us a connection
What did you learn during your time in YOLA that you are going to take with you?
I learned that having a supportive community is very vital. At YOLA, there is a sense of unity in music and community. I strived more at YOLA thanks to this, and therefore, it is something I hope to find at Peabody. 

Magy is pictured top row, seventh from the left.

Site: YOLA at EXPO Center
Instrument: Violin
Attending: Harvard University
Major: Environmental Science and Public Policy with a secondary in Social Studies

What are you most excited about for college?
The people! In all of the communities that I’ve been a part of, I’ve found that the true magic comes from the people. At YOLA, the faculty and staff and my fellow musicians have become a second family to me, and they constantly inspire and encourage me. I hope to create a similarly strong community at Harvard and continue to be motivated by the energizing spirits of the students, staff, and community members that I meet. 

What is your favorite YOLA memory?
I’ll never forget Celebrate LA!, the LA Phil’s 100th anniversary celebration. The whole weekend, from rehearsals to the long day of performances, was one of the most fun experiences of my life. Throughout the eight-mile route, I was able to play in the morning with the younger students from various YOLA sites, in the afternoon in our string ensemble alongside LA Phil musicians, and in the evening at the Hollywood Bowl. One part that really stood out to me was that morning, at 8 am, when Gustavo was speaking at the commencement of the festival. The sun was still rising over the Los Angeles skyscrapers; there were hundreds of YOLA musicians, family members, LA residents, and cyclists; and I had a sudden realization of the value of the work that the LA Phil has put into incorporating this city’s diversity into music and how it’s really because of this program that I’ve been able to experience how extraordinary Los Angeles really is. 

What did you learn during your time in YOLA that you are going to take with you?
YOLA has really taught me how to find purpose in what I do. I first entered the program set on being a mechanical engineer, but through the years, I’ve witnessed my peers’ passion for classical music, assumed mentorship roles for younger violinists, and broadened my own curiosity and creativity through music. My experiences at YOLA have helped me recognize how multifaceted everything is and the great impact that anyone’s actions can have. As I head off to college now, I’m much more aware of my own potential to bring about positive change in the world, and that I must always be mindful of who my work will affect and how. 

Do you plan to continue playing violin?
Definitely! Music, both classical and non-classical, continue to be sources of comfort, creativity, and possibility for me, and I’d like to focus my violin skills on exploring and showcasing my Mexican heritage. I plan on expanding the mariachi group at Harvard and joining (or creating!) other cultural music groups including Folklorico dance groups and Son Jarocho bands. 

Diana is pictured top row, third from the right.

Site: YOLA at EXPO Center
Instrument: Cello
Attending: University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Major: Ethnomusicology

What are you most excited about for college?
I’m really excited about attending UCLA in the fall. To start it off, I’ll be pursuing a degree in Ethnomusicology, and whenever I tell other people that, they give me the million-dollar question: “Soooo, what is Ethnomusicology?”. To me, Ethnomusicology is the study of culture and how it intertwines with music. It helps bring awareness to the importance of music and the way it’s defined differently through every society. Whether that be classical, mariachi, rap, etc., it all helps people come together to enjoy a reflection of their culture. 

I’m also really excited about attending UCLA, because I’ve never received a music education outside of YOLA. Despite the disadvantage I may have been presented by not attending an arts high school, simply because they're not at all present in my community, I definitely knew I still wanted to pursue music in a different way that wasn’t solely performance. There are so many different aspects to music, and UCLA’s Ethnomusicology program really encapsulates the diverse meaning of pursuing a career in music. Not only am I looking forward to furthering my music education, but also doing so in a way that prepares me for what I want to do in the future: continuing to help underserved communities discover that music can really change lives

What is your favorite YOLA memory?
My favorite YOLA memory is hard to choose because there’s practically 10 years-worth of YOLA memories within me. I’ve definitely enjoyed the feeling of making music with musicians from different parts of the world, since I’ve been given the privilege to participate is the LA Phil’s 2018 trip to London and its 2019 trip to South Korea. It’s amazing that I’ve been able to experience playing at the Super Bowl halftime show, participating in YOLA’s 10th anniversary Cal Tour, and performing at the Hollywood Bowl and Walt Disney Concert Hall. All lifelong memories that have solely been possible because I became an active member of the YOLA community. 

Looking back at the day I first held my cello might actually be my favorite memory (so I take back what I said about not having one). I remember choosing an instrument and having the ability to list three instruments. My nine-year-old self listed cello, flute, and violin (only because my mom kept insisting that I play violin). I completely fell in love with the cello the first time I heard it. I really liked how versatile the range is, and although my mom didn’t want me to play cello, I chose it anyway. The first time I brought my cello home I had relatives from Mexico visiting and they told me I should play for them. I, of course, knew nothing yet, but played away. Looking back at it all, it’s really nice to acknowledge how my time with YOLA has allowed me to grow into the person I am today and see the relationship between my cello and me flourish. 

What did you learn during your time in YOLA that you are going to take with you?
Like previously stated, I’ve learned how to acknowledge the vast world of musicians that surround me and celebrate our differences through the various YOLA trips I’ve been fortunate enough to take part in. I realized that our world is filled with talented people who share the universal language of music. When I went to South Korea, almost none of the students from El Sistema Korea spoke English and nobody from Los Angeles spoke Korean, but during rehearsals this all changed. Although Google translate did help us communicate, the music united us more than words ever could. Music did all the talking for us. 

Also, YOLA has helped me find what I want to do in the future: giving back to the communities that have historically been marginalized; giving back to the community that raised me by providing it the opportunity I’ve had through YOLA. I believe having an arts education is crucial to the success of every student. The lack of resources creates some adversity for those like myself who want to pursue a career in music, but it definitely builds persistence. As a first-generation college student, a woman of color, and a musician, the odds are not in my favor, but that only encourages me to break the barriers that people from similar backgrounds as myself have faced. I have definitely grown into a more confident person because of YOLA, so I am planning to use my voice and passion to advocate for myself and those around me. Now to answer your million-dollar question…

Do you plan to continue playing cello?
Cello is a part of me that I won’t ever get rid of no matter how hard I try to do so (although I wouldn’t want to get rid of it). It’s been ingrained into my daily life that even if I don’t physically practice my cello, I’m constantly listening to music. There have been times where I don’t play my cello for a couple of days and I feel the withdrawal and an uneasiness within me. When there were times I didn’t give my cello enough attention, just listening to a classical music piece brought tears to my eyes because I felt the regret that came from temporarily abandoning it. Although I won’t be pursuing a career in cello performance, it’s nice to know I can now approach cello in my own way and go to it whenever I miss it. Ultimately, I thank my cello even when it frustrates me because it has granted me the ability to appreciate and love classical music. 

Jackie is pictured middle row, first on the right.

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