Encouraged by supportive directors, a struggling student overcomes personal and musical challenges to lead the band.
My name is Diana Cervantes. I am 19 years old and originally from Tijuana, Mexico. I came to the United States on a Visa when I was just 10 years old, but it expired four years ago, making me an undocumented immigrant.
When I first joined the band at Northwest Community High School in Indianapolis, I didn’t even know how to put my instrument together. But within a year I was first chair, and then drum major. This is my story—much like my status in this country, it is still incomplete—but thanks to what I learned in band, I fight and work hard every day to someday make my dreams come true.
As a 7th grader at Broad Ripple Magnet High School in Indianapolis, I made friends who only wanted to skip school, and I got myself into trouble. My father decided to put me in an activity I didn’t like, hoping it would make me do better in school. My cousin was in band, and I felt like she was always “better” than me. I hated the attention and benefits she received while in band.
The first few months I was full of hate because I felt like I wasn’t made for band and was not good enough. I spoke to my band director Kelly Hershey about it, and her advice was, “Don’t give up on something you have never tried before.”
She put me in private lessons to see if I’d get better, but my biggest problem was that I hated playing the flute. That whole year was full of disappointments, and I was not even trying.
Mrs. Hershey never gave up on me. She would look for ways to keep me in her band. When I returned in the 8th grade, she gave me a clarinet to try instead. I really liked the clarinet, but due to grades and work, I was put in all honors classes and had to drop out of band.
By the end of the year, my general school attendance problem was so bad that I was kicked out of the magnet school and transferred to Northwest. I was scared to try band at another school, but I was automatically placed in advanced concert band since the administration saw music on my record. I barely knew how to put a clarinet together, and I wanted to drop the class immediately, but my new band director Timothy Beaty told me to give it a try, and he’d help me in anything I needed. He was a great help. I learned so much that within two months, I became first chair of the clarinet section.
Thrown into Leadership
Advancing so quickly was very difficult at first. I felt like nobody liked me because I was learning fast and had a lot of the director’s attention. At the end of freshman year Mr. Beaty left to go to another school, and Christopher Abbe came in. I thought about quitting but decided to wait and see.
My sophomore year I made first chair again. One month later I was named drum major. To this day I still can’t see why I was chosen as drum major. Mr. Abbe says he picked me because I was a really hard worker and very reliable person, but I felt lost. I didn’t know much about being a drum major, but I decided to do it. If he believed in me, then he saw potential in me, so why give up?
At first, the drum major position was challenging because I was really shy. I am a very short person and not many people listened to me or followed my lead.
Thankfully, during the summer I won a scholarship to go to Ball State University for the Music for All Summer Symposium presented by Yamaha. That camp was a HUGE help for me. It truly taught me about how to communicate with others, loosen up a little more, and to be less scared and more comfortable with myself and my instrument.
I was lucky enough to attend the Symposium two more summers on the same scholarship, and I remained drum major throughout my time in high school. The band excelled in competition at Bands of America. Meanwhile I learned to play tenor and baritone saxophone in jazz band, where we won medals in Indiana state competitions.
Being a drum major was amazing. People looked up to me, and I felt happy to help because I knew what it was like to struggle. More than a drum major, I became the kids’ friend. I tried to help them in any way possible.
As I began my senior year, I had a major emotional downfall, realizing that my legal status would prevent me from being accepted to the colleges and scholarships I wanted. But I got back up and kept trying, knowing that the band was depending on me as drum major. At the end of the year, I suffered a concussion, but against doctor’s orders, I went to my final state jazz competition. I don’t know how, but that day I played better than ever, receiving compliments from the judges for playing the bari sax with so much loud and strong confidence even after feeling so weak at the moment.
Band has taught me so much about life—morals, respect, and dedication, which are very helpful. I fell in love with band, and when I have a chance, I go back to Northwest to help the newbies and play with them.
Now my biggest goal and dream is to get a degree while never leaving my instruments behind.