SLHS senior earns place at prestigious music college

SLHS senior Ryan O’Neal

Berklee College of Music might not have the name recognition of Harvard or Yale, but for aspiring musicians it’s just as prestigious.

As of this year, 120 Berklee alumni have been awarded 283 Grammy Awards. Quincy Jones, Melissa Etheridge, and Branford Marsalis are just a few of the legends who cut their teeth at the private, highly-selective music school.

We will soon be able to add Ryan O’Neal’s name to that distinguished list.

O’Neal, a senior at Spanaway Lake High School, went through the rigorous application process and was recently accepted to Berklee. Before offering him admission, representatives from the Boston-based school came all the way to Washington to put O’Neal through his musical paces.

The tryout was nerve racking, but it was all worth it when O’Neal opened his acceptance letter in December.

“It was a really good feeling,” he said. “At that point I knew at least I’m good enough to get accepted into one of the best music schools in the world. Then there was a feeling of dread when I saw the scholarship letter.”

The dread was because the scholarship letter was empty, and O’Neal and his family would have to figure out how to pay the $65,000 per year price tag.

While that number was daunting, O’Neal knew he couldn’t give up on his dream without a fight.

“I’m pretty dead-set on going there,” he said. “If I have to go there and work a full-time job, I will.”

The 18-year-old fell in love with music while listening to classic rock with his dad, and he’s been obsessively playing guitar since he was 11.

He’s now in his own pop punk band, where he writes songs, plays guitar and sings.

While he loves to perform, O’Neal is also a pragmatist. He knows becoming a rich and famous rock star is unlikely, but he also knows a prestigious Berklee degree could help him create a career behind the scenes in the music industry.

“My end goal is to become a professional in my chosen field,” he said. “I want to double major in songwriting and music production. In the end, I want to be good enough to get out in the actual music industry and have people pay me for my services.”

Kirsten Winter is O’Neal’s school counselor at SLHS. She says she was “floored” the first time she heard O’Neal’s music, but beyond that she’s even more impressed with him as a person.

“I knew Ryan was talented and intelligent from how he presented himself,” she said. “He doesn’t present himself as a kid. He’s always so on it and so together.”

Music is O’Neal’s passion, but it’s far from his only talent. He’s also a great student who has never missed the honor roll and is currently in the Running Start program, which will allow him to earn an Associates Degree from Pierce College at the same time he earns his high school diploma. When he’s not studying or playing music, O’Neal finds the time to volunteer at a soup kitchen with his church.

Between getting help from his parents, his own savings, and various outside scholarships he is applying for, O’Neal thinks he will be able to pay for his first year of school. He’s currently raising money to help pay for the rest of his time at Berklee.

Helping kids learn is the driving force behind all we do in the Bethel School District.

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