LEAD at 10

February 2019

The ruminations of a teenage college applicant can often sound callow. But not always. As many a college essay proves, such thoughts can be utterly inspirational. The same can be said of essays submitted by applicants to the Alumni Association LEAD Scholars Program.

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the program, we are sharing just a few of the many essays submitted. In this 10-part series, you’ll read of the experiences of those who come from relatively sheltered backgrounds to those who have had to deal with more than their share of adversity.

In this sixth installment, Giovanni Bellegarde, ’18, recalls how an inner-city kid learned to love classical music in high school and its effect on his life. Now working at The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, Giovanni is training to become an actor and is currently auditioning for television, film, and stage roles. He is also contemplating a graduate degree in acting.


A Classical Tale

When I first arrived at the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York, I was greeted with a rude awakening. I thought I would be practicing the kind of music I was used to: rhythm and blues, gospel, or even jazz.

I was wrong.

Instead, when I walked in on the morning of Sept. 8, 2010, my new voice teacher explained that we would be learning classical music and arias. I was dumbfounded. But four years later, classical music is my passion.

I am a fanatic of music in general, but no other style of music affects me like classical music. When I open my mouth to sing that first note or hear a beautiful chord played, a sensation of overwhelming refinement takes hold of me.

I can listen to classical music for hours, in awe of the music created by these composers. I am mesmerized by the pulchritude of different works, from Leontyne Price singing “Vissi D’arte” from “Tosca” to Bach’s “Little” fugue. Works like these make me want to explore the magnitude of the field. When I come across a new work, I am astonished by the lavish chords, the lush dynamics, and the beautiful melodies that merge to create some of the best pieces of art to grace the world.

Classical music has been vital not only in my growth as a performer but also as an individual. It has taught me discipline and the qualities a person needs in order to succeed in life. I have gained a new sense of confidence that I never knew I had through this music.

When people ask me what type of music I enjoy listening to, or performing, they don’t expect me—a black boy from an inner-city neighborhood—to reply “classical.” People tend to ridicule that it is something I am passionate about because of my background. That simply inspires me to go further and prove every single one of these people wrong.

My affection for this art form will remain a driving force in defeating any odds I may face in the future. I know now that I am strong, unique, and at one with myself because of classical music. It will remain with me as I grow both as an artist and human being and will be essential to me throughout my life.


The LEAD Scholars Program provides scholarships to black, Latino, and Native American students who have been accepted into the U-M. Visit umalumni.com/LEAD to learn how you can support the program and, thus, help create a more diverse campus.

Michigan Alumnus is made possible through the generous support of Alumni Association members. Join today to help sustain the future of Alumnus and other alumni programs. Visit umalumni.com/support.