A ten-week study into the lives of students juggling employment
with college education.
Keegan Nolan, 19, smiles widely and greets each resident by name as he approaches the dining tables at Crescent Park Senior Living. As he fills their water glasses, he recites the dinner specials and makes comfortable small talk with the guests. In the privacy of the kitchen, he confides that although he enjoys the residents, the customer service industry can feel exhausting on top of his everyday life.
Working as a supervising waiter in a retirement facility to pay for college isn’t where Nolan ever pictured himself. “My family thought that all I’d ever be good for was the military,” he says. His mother struggled to financially support him and his sister following a divorce from Nolan’s father. “She didn’t think I’d ever have the money for college,” Nolan explains. “My mom’s the type of personality who thinks that if there’s a chance you can fail, you shouldn’t put yourself through that.” College seemed impossible, and Nolan half-heartedly assumed he would enter the military following his high school graduation.
But while working as a worship leader during his senior year, Nolan’s vision for his life shifted. A friend arranged for him to meet with the head of the music department at Northwest Christian University. Nolan played his guitar and sang for her in an on-the-spot audition, and she immediately offered him a $5,000 scholarship, with the promise of more. For Nolan, it was the first time he ever felt that music may be a legitimate dream for his future. “I had a really low opinion of the way I sang and played guitar,” he says. “But knowing, ‘Oh, I actually am good, and I can be better,’ it meant a lot.”
Nolan now works part time to pay the bills his scholarships don’t cover, but music remains his greatest motivator. In the fall, he reluctantly stepped back from leading worship due to demanding work and school schedules, but he hopes to return to that foundation and share the confidence that music has given him. When he starts to feel overwhelmed, Nolan focuses on his long-term goals and remembers the incredible opportunity he’s been given. “I know that five or six years from now, I’m going to be in the field that I want, doing what I want,” says Nolan. “That’s what is getting me through everything.”