Erika Pritchard UNK Communications
KEARNEY — Graduating wasn’t easy, but Giovanni Flores proved it was worth the fight.
The 2014 Lexington High School graduate recently earned a Bachelor of Music degree majoring in music business from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, ending an eight-year journey filled with ups and downs.
“I knew no matter how hard it was going to be, it would be worth it in the end because I had been in school for so long that at this point nothing was going to stop me from getting my degree,” he said.
Flores struggled to retain information early in his college career. Rather than “wasting money on an education that was going nowhere,” he decided to take a break to figure out how to get better grades while financially supporting his brothers and ailing father in California and his mother in Lexington.
He was a part-time student at UNK and Central Community College in Kearney for two years before returning full-time to UNK for another two years.
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Flores often worked two or three jobs during the day and studied until morning.
Throughout this time, he never gave up on himself or his education.
After completing the fall 2018 term at UNK, Flores returned to Lexington to work full-time in retail and later in construction.
Working in retail, he learned what kind of life he didn’t want to lead.
“The longer I kept working there, the worse I felt and the angrier I got. I wasn’t advancing in the world. I just stayed stale,” Flores said.
Then he tried electrical work for a construction company, but realized that the environment outside was not for him. However, he learned to create electrical cables, which would later prove useful as an audio technician.
Meanwhile, Flores took one course at a time in college. One of those classes, a private trumpet lesson with UNK music teacher Tim Farrell, changed his educational trajectory.
Flores unknowingly reversed the beats when he read music, leading Farrell to ask if he had ever been tested for dyslexia. Flores was surprised by the question, even though he knew he had trouble reading and memorizing the beats by ear to compensate.
“That’s how my teacher determined that I was dyslexic. So that’s something I always consider when I hear from people,” Farrell said. “If you read or write in a group, it is sometimes difficult for a teacher to make the distinction. But when you’re making music one-on-one, sometimes we’re the first to figure these things out.
Flores was diagnosed with dyslexia at an UNK testing site. He then took it upon himself to research the learning disability and identify ways to improve his reading skills.
He started reading at a “crawling speed” and worked on his concentration. From there, he memorized pieces of music. Flores also used professional audio equipment to record himself playing so he could listen for mistakes.
Farrell has re-taught Flores how to read music on the debut books, and he is now able to play the professor’s doctoral-level pieces.
“It’s not difficult for me anymore,” Flores said.
When Flores returned to study full-time at UNK in the fall of 2020, he received extensions to his assignments through UNK’s Disability Student Services. And he took over activities such as Jazz Band, Wind Ensemble, Sigma Lambda Beta fraternity and National Honorary Kappa Kappa Psi band.
However, he lost much of the financial aid he had received earlier in his college career, including a full scholarship from the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation. He recouped some of his music scholarships and qualified for federal grants and loans.
To help cover expenses, Flores worked three jobs, including a work-study position in the Department of Music, Drama and Dance at UNK. In October, he accepted a full-time job as the department’s audio and event technician.
His work as a sound technician reconnected him with Jennifer Harvey, director of the Thompson Scholars Learning Community (TSLC) on campus. Harvey, who was surprised to see him work at a TSLC graduation event in the spring of 2021, inquired about his life.
“He seemed really enthusiastic about his craft,” she said. “I walked away from that conversation thinking he would be a good example of someone to call on to get the scholarship back.”
That’s exactly what she did. Flores then wrote a letter to the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation explaining her reasons for leaving college, and the foundation granted her appeal that spring.
The extra scholarship money allowed Flores to quit his two part-time jobs and focus on his classes and his new role at UNK.
In turn, he achieved his best GPA – a 4.0. This brought his cumulative GPA to 3.1, a far cry from the 2.0 mark he had four years prior. It was also a cut above the 3.0 requirement to enter graduate school. Flores hopes to study sound design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign after completing her contract as an audio and event technician at UNK.
Harvey couldn’t be happier for him.
“I think Gio’s story is inspiring because it showed longitudinal courage and dedication,” she said. “I’m really proud of him for fighting for his degree.”