Ever since putting on his end-of-the-year senior concert in the Underground Coffee House, musician and soon-to-be Western graduate Sheldon Botler knew he was going to be involved with music for the rest of his life.
“Music can help you express emotions, thoughts, ideas and what have you, that in no way could you express simply with words,” Botler said. “I do music with the intention of helping people understand themselves and the world around them.”
Botler will soon graduate from Fairhaven College with a degree in multi-cultural youth development, and has explored and been presented many opportunities within music.
He has experience as a producer, guitarist, singer-songwriter, rapper, beat-boxer, drummer and pianist. He was recently commissioned by Puget Sound Energy to write three original songs about the environment, and has played gigs both as a solo performer and as a drummer with the Seattle-based band, Peacemaker Nation. He is starting his own music production company and has helped produce and mix tracks and albums for various bands including Bellingham’s own, Eclecticity.
Botler was given the chance to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. Berklee, the largest independent college of contemporary music in the world, has produced hundreds of famous musicians including John Mayer, producer Quincy Jones, guitarist Steve Vai, Weezer’s guitarist and lead singer Rivers Cuomo, and the majority of the members of Passion Pit.
Even though Botler was granted a $13,000 scholarship, Berklee’s yearly tuition of almost $50,000 presented enough financial difficulty to make the Seattle musician decide not to venture east to Boston.
“Right now, I’m not sure if I really want to go to Berklee at this point because I don’t know what they have to offer that I couldn’t get somewhere else for cheaper,” Botler said. “So now I’m kind of in this reevaluating phase.”
Iris Maute-Gibson, Associated Students vice president for governmental affairs, said that although Botler’s situation deals with an out-of-state private institution, his story is reflective of a lot of modern higher education pursuers in general.
“People are being forced to prioritize putting their dreams off for other pursuits in terms of gaining financial stability and what I really appreciate about Sheldon is that he’s continuing to work toward his dreams,” Maute-Gibson said.
According to research done by Maute-Gibson, a Western student in 1968 earning minimum wage for that year would have to work eight hours a week to pay for their tuition, school fees and room and board. In 1988, a Western student would have to work 28 hours a week. In 2008, Western students earning minimum wage would need to work a total of 68 hours a week to cover the costs of their education.
“There’s a complete misconception among our elected officials and amongst society that as a student, you can work and pay for college at the same time,” Maute-Gibson said. “That’s just impossible with the way that tuition has continued to increase way beyond the Consumer Price Index.”
Botler said that while Berklee would have opened the door for him in terms of access to the best equipment and networking, there is nothing the college could offer him that he can’t achieve on his own.
“Some of the best recordings in the world have not been done on the world’s best equipment; they were done by the best producers and the best musicians,” Botler said. “My hope now is to really study and hone my craft and to become a really effective networker so that even if I do go to Berklee or if I’m in a position where networking will be easy, I will know what to do with all those resources.”
Maute-Gibson, who first met Botler when he was a Resident Advisor in Fairhaven, said that he is a holistic individual who completely dedicates himself to his education and work.
“I always appreciated his motivation and his drive,” Maute-Gibson said. “I think that he also exemplifies the fact that higher education is about more than the degree you earn.”
Botler said that every subject he studied during his four years at Western has influenced the music he makes today.
“The thing with education anywhere is it’s not how much they have to offer; it’s how much you get out of it,” Botler said. “If you don’t spend your time milking those resources, you can come out as much of a dummy as when you came in.”