Unconventional Path: From Punk Band Tours to Higher Education

During his senior year of high school, Willette had a friend in a metal band that needed a bass player. He decided to give it a try and learn as he went. He started playing shows at a small coffee shop on Saturdays and immediately fell in love. Willette shared that his academics improved because he was focused and kept himself busy with a new passion and purpose.

This group of friends transitioned into making punk music in his father’s basement and called themselves the 12th Avenue Band. Shortly thereafter, they started playing shows around the Minneapolis area. After opening once for a band out of Wyoming called Teenage Bottle Rocket, they got a call offering the opportunity to tour together throughout the country. They only toured with Teenage Bottle Rocket for a few months, but the band spent a total of two years traveling the country playing music.

Although music is no longer his main focus today, Willette still has that passion and plays solo music throughout the Greater Mankato area.

Following his time in the music scene, Willette worked other jobs, but none quite satiated his desire for something more fulfilling. It was during this time that he made the decision to pursue higher education, inspired in part by his sister and the band's bass player, both of whom attended Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Although he is an untraditional undergraduate student having started his college career at 21, Willette feels that no one looks at him differently. If anything, he says that it helps him focus more on school. With one year left in his undergraduate studies, Willette plans to pursue a Master's in Education and later a Ph.D., with the aim of working in higher education and fostering a love for English among students.

“I am a writer,” he says. “I love to write.” His hope is that he can help instill that same love for English and writing in the next generation of scholars. He has a passion to increase the percentage of males graduating both high school and college, specifically in higher education. “I want to be a mentor,” he says. “If I’m going to be a male teacher, I’m of course going to help [students of all genders], but those boys need someone to look up to. I’ll make sure they have someone to talk to.”

His experience in public speaking, gained from years of performing with his band, has made him comfortable addressing diverse audiences. Willette feels that his time spent touring and seeing different parts of the country has given him a unique perspective allowing him to connect well with students coming from various backgrounds and different cultures.

Beyond his academics, Willette quickly got involved in extracurriculars within his first semester on campus. He did not come into college with full intentions of joining Greek life, but early in the fall semester of his first year, a Phi Delta Theta member approached him on campus and invited him over that night. Willette immediately got along with the members and found himself going back every day. Shortly thereafter, he was asked to join their fraternity.

Joining Greek life at Minnesota State Mankato proved to be another pivotal decision for Willette, who states that it was “the best decision ever.” Phi Delta Theta ΦΔΘ has high educational standards that members must meet in order to maintain their membership and attend events. Willette credits Greek life as a motivating factor to succeed in school. He says, “It keeps you busy, keeps you on your toes. You have to have good grades and a good work ethic just to be in Greek life all together… Our education comes first. Always.”

One of the largest events in Greek life, Mavathon, is coming up on Saturday, Feb. 17. Willette invites everyone to attend the event or donate. “We raise a lot of money for Gillette’s Children’s Hospital,” he says. “Come dance, or dance horribly with us.”

Willette adds, “Community service is very important to us [Greek life]. We wouldn’t be here without it.” The event is open to all students, staff and community members. Tickets to the event and information on how to donate can be found here.


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