by Brandon Summers | March 2016
Fall 2012 at UNLV
2012, without a doubt, was the best year I’ve had in my twenties. It was my best year street performing and the corporate entertainment gigs started rolling in. I was flown to San Francisco and Orange County for gigs. I was finally validated as a professional musician in my mother’s eyes. My younger brother graduated from college. I fell in love with a girl from New York while on a summer vacation. Everything was right in the world.
I decided to take Chemistry I at UNLV in the Fall. I couldn’t sustain my motivation to get the work done, so I dropped out after a few weeks. My head just wasn’t in the game. I promised myself I would try harder next semester, and I did.
Spring 2013 at UNLV / Fall 2013 at UNR
I took Chemistry I at UNLV in the spring. It was hard to stay focused at times and I had a less than spectacular professor, but I wasn’t depressed or overwhelmed. I just didn’t want to be on campus. Long story short, I passed with a B.
I now had one class left. One class! I was optimistic. I knew I would take Linear Algebra II in the fall at UNR, and I believed I would pass. However, I was under a lot of stress between Spring and Fall. My dad* had been having health issues since 2011, so I stepped up and helped him get to his appointments (since his then wife wouldn’t). At the same time, the golden era of street performing on the Vegas strip had come to an end. Competition was fierce and there were new rules governing what performers could and could not do. My income was basically cut in half overnight.
By August, I made the adjustments financially and enrolled in Linear Algebra II at UNR. I flew into Reno for the first week, and met with the professor. I asked him if he would accept homework assignments via email, and he said “yes”. He just needed me to be present for the tests. Great! This allowed me to remain in Las Vegas while taking this course. I put in the time, and I was making progress. There were plenty proofs, but they weren’t the primary focus of the book selected by the professor. I felt confident that things were gonna work out.
When school started, my dad continued to need a lot of assistance getting to and from his medical appointments. I did all that I could, and it was hard for me to see my dad go through this. It was also hard on my time. Eventually my dad moved home to Indianapolis to be looked after by his family, but my performance in class suffered for the first eight weeks. I wasn’t able to recover. I knew I was a dead man walking weeks before the final exam.
I knew that not passing meant that I would have to wait until Fall 2015 to take this class again. I was also broke since I cashed out my savings ($1,400) to pay for class. That girl that from New York that I met on vacation— I pushed her away because I believed that the future of our relationship was contingent on me finishing school. I was planning on ditching the “long-distance” part of our relationship.
Broke and single, I was at a really low point going into the New Year. I didn’t take any classes in 2014, but I did take a free online course to improve my confidence with proofs. I dropped out after a couple of weeks. I also read a book called How To Study as a Math Major in its entirety. But for the most part, I spent most of 2014 getting back on my feet financially. I street performed. I had gigs as usual. I did this. And this. I joined a band from Evansville, IN for a brief moment between late July-mid September. It didn’t work out, but it was a great experience. Otherwise, most of this year was just blah.
After I failed to pass Linear Algebra II in the fall of 2013, I came to the epiphany that my lack of understanding with proofs was more than just an obstacle— it was a brick wall twenty feet high. I decided to take Discrete Mathematics at UNLV as a refresher course. I took this class seven years ago, but I certainly remember being bored, apathetic, and sleeply (it didn’t help that the class was right after lunchtime).
Things did not go as planned (of course!). Because of the demand for this course (mostly by computer science majors), the math department forced all students to drop the class and re-enroll. When I did, I was pushed into the section that was taught by a senile and incompetent professor. I ended up taking this issue to the dean of Colleges and Sciences who eventually offered every student a chance to retake the course free of charge. This class would have been a disaster if it weren’t for the TA who held recitation on Fridays. He was a godsend. Long story short, I passed and now had some confidence in attempting proofs. I decided to take Linear Algebra II at UNR again in the fall. This would be my fifth attempt.
August rolls around and I am relieved and excited to get this school thing over with. I am emotionally recharged and I have momentum. I have paid (partially) for class and I have the tickets to fly to Reno for the first week of class. Things seem to moving in my favor. Then I get the call on my way home from a wedding gig. I see a missed call from my grandmother, but I don’t return it. I had a feeling something was wrong, but I wanted to land in Vegas before addressing the issue. I am not particularly close to my dad’s* side of the family. Minutes later my brother calls and his voice is frantic. He tells me that our that our dad had a stroke.
Long story short, my dad survives, but is paralyzed on the right side of his body and unable to speak. He is only able to make out a few words at a time. He was put in a nursing home in September 2015. My aunt and I became his legal guardians. This process was arduous and time consuming. It required a lawyer and a trip to Indianapolis. It also forces me to drop out of Linear Algebra II after a few weeks. I’m mourning my father’s health and at the same time resenting him. I’m beyond exhausted by the time the dust has settled in December, but I seize an opportunity to take Advanced Matrix Theory, a class comparable to Linear Algebra II, at UNLV in the spring of the following year. (I wish I would have known that this class was offered locally, but you know what they say about hindsight.)
With reluctant enthusiasm, I registered for Advanced Matrix Theory at UNLV. After the fiasco with Discrete Mathematics the previous year, I was sure that I would never have to set foot on UNLV’s campus again. I was wrong. The first week of class comes around and I am met with the professor’s broken English as well as the breakneck speed at which he lectures. It is also his first time teaching this class (of course!). My book is also going to take two weeks to arrive in the mail, but we already have homework due. I quickly become anxious, overwhelmed, and depressed. However, I have done my due diligence by reaching out to classmates to form a study group and a few respond. I also enroll in psychological services at the Student Wellness center.
I adjust to the professors accent, my book comes in the mail, the professor pushes back the due date of the first assignment, and I come out of my depression spell. Now it’s time to do the work. The problem is I can’t. I spend hours at UNLV’s library and at a 24/7 McDonalds. I go to office hours for help and clarity. The professor is somewhat helpful, but goes too fast and can’t offer alternative explanations. I am hanging on by my fingertips. I am struggling with the homework assignments (which are 40% of our grade). Fortunately, I have a classmate who allows me to copy the initial three assignments; but he eventually grows tired of my inability to contribute during our study sessions. I am slowly losing my mind as the semester progresses. By week six, I’ve had several depression attacks in the parking lot at UNLV. By week eight, I’ve had enough. This class, with this professor, with this book is just not going to work. I drop out in the eighth week, just two days before the midterm. Without having a grasp on homework, I knew I didn’t have a chance in hell to perform well on the midterm. This is when I decide to call it quits.