"Berklee has become the world's singular learning lab for the music of today--and tomorrow…" according to the Berklee mission statement webpage. However, Berklee isn't known for its high volume of military students.
Berklee has several satellite campuses and various programs embedded into communities across the United States. One such program at a high school in Puerto Rico, mixed with the chance meeting of a military commander, allowed a female percussionist to find her road to opportunities.
"My mom always said, 'Take the first opportunity to leave Puerto Rico, and make a life out there,'" said Spc. Laura Crespo, a bandsman for the U.S. Army Reserve 78th Army Band and senior studying at Berklee School of Music.
Crespo's musical talent during a Berklee High School Jazz festival caught the attention of the 78th Army Band commander, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Luis Santiago.
"The performance of the band [Crespo] came with was amazing and her skills as a drummer were impressive," said Santiago. "When talking with her, she seemed determined to make it to Berklee."
While her talent was enough to achieve her scholarships to Berklee School of Music for all four years, it wasn't that simple for her to leave the island she called home.
"I remember watching my mom cry in bed because she couldn't send me out here to Berklee," reminisced Crespo. "Financially speaking, my mom couldn't send me out there, but she was like, 'I want you out of here. I don't want you to stay here in Puerto Rico.'"
On an off chance, Crespo remembered the fortuitous meeting with the native officer and felt the urge to contact him.
"If the door is open, why would you not just step through it?" asked Crespo. "I called [Santiago] and asked him how did he get out, what did he do since he came from [Puerto Rico], he was also broke and got out."
Located in Queens, New York, and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, Santiago was in a position to offer Crespo the chance of a lifetime, just by mentioning the opportunities that the U.S. Army Reserve presented.
"[Chief] told me about opportunities that the military could provide, and I wanted to be absolutely sure I went into the military for music," said the San Juan native. "It is my passion, and I wanted to pursue that, knowing that the military had that to offer to me."
Crespo and her family scraped the money together to get her to the mainland; knowing that once she was there, her new life awaited.
"We just ended up figuring out a way of pulling money from wherever to get me a flight to Boston," she said. Once she landed in Boston, she was able to meet up with a recruiter and start her journey into the U.S. Army Reserve.
Crespo became a Soldier, and a bandsman, five years ago. Joining the ranks of the 78th Army Band, she performs in different ensembles and her primary instruments are the drums and hand percussion.
Over the years, Crespo endured many hardships and triumphs melding her journey between being a Soldier and a student within the hallowed halls of Berklee.
"It's been pretty hard, but beneficial," Crespo stated. "Throughout my whole bachelors, I was away from home….I was constantly overwhelmed, but I feel like I'm 10 times stronger than I was before I left home."
Studying music performance at Berklee, Crespo claims that she learned how to work with everything thrown at her, juggling life and work by taking it one day at a time. With her school located in Boston, her U.S. Army Reserve unit located in Queens, New York, Crespo says that while the commute is tedious for now, she wouldn't change anything.
"I think just having the support system that I have with my battle buddies… means a lot to a kid who flew from PR and has been raised there. Finding family out here, means so much," said Crespo.