Professional musician, Rodney Hubbard, graduated May 13 from Kent State Stark's music technology program
Rodney Hubbard considered study at a university, but instead he found himself behind a piano.
Drawn to the ivories, he unwrapped his musical gift on the black and white keys. First, at his father’s church in inner city Cleveland, then traveling with renowned gospel groups and touring the world as principal pianist for the 1990s R&B group Jodeci.
His journey led him to serve as minister of music at several churches in Northeast Ohio, including The Word Church in Cleveland. But shortly after his decade of service at the growing gospel giant, he decided to go to college.
On Sunday, May 13, the Streetsboro resident graduated at age 45 with a bachelor’s degree from Kent State University at Stark’s fastest-growing program, music technology.
He joins the 40 percent of graduates identifying as first-generation college-goers in Kent State Stark’s spring commencement class of 239 students.
“I wanted to be an example for my children,” said Hubbard, father of three – Racquel, Rodney and Ryenne. “Of course, I wanted to get an education for myself, but I wanted to show them that a college education is a minimum goal of what you must achieve in life.
“Everything is built upon education.”
On a spring afternoon the week before graduation, Hubbard was preparing to take final exams in his three courses requiring advanced math skills. Hubbard acknowledged he would not have dreamed of completing modeling algebra plus, physics or even microeconomics. But, on this day, he was set to pass and even make the Dean’s List. Again.
The road hasn’t been easy, Hubbard acknowledged. “It took a lot of hard work.”
“Rodney is a very motivated individual,” said Robert Craven, who teaches CABLE Math, a free program offering Kent State Stark students intensive preparation in mathematics.
Hubbard also sought tutoring at the Academic Success Center. “It all has helped me get through to graduation day,” he said.
Family members, especially his wife, Stacey, have been a constant source of strength and support. His experience as a professional musician also fueled a desire to push forward, comforting Hubbard during challenging times in his collegiate pursuit.
While traveling with Jodeci in his early 20s, Hubbard said he experienced the highlight of his young career following a concert in Japan, which included 1990s headliners George Michael, TLC, and the “godfather of soul” James Brown.
A youthful Hubbard asked the funk music icon for his best advice. Brown responded with two words:
‘ONLY THE BEGINNING’
Hubbard let those words sink in deep, planting a seed for future growth.
In 2013, he discovered Kent State Stark’s music technology program was a natural fit. Hubbard knew well the performance side of the business, so he set his focus on the music production tract.
“Rod was a fantastic presence in the classroom,” said Erin Vaughn, lecturer of music. “His years of professional experience combined with his life experience gave him a very unique perspective. His enthusiasm was contagious, and he was a strong leader in classes with a performance component. It was beneficial for other students to have a peer with that much to share.”
Personally for Vaughn, who is the same age as Hubbard, he was “an inspiration.
“Rod is one of the guys that remind me on the tough days why being a teacher is a gift.”
The feeling is mutual. Vaughn’s history of popular music course took Hubbard on an educational journey “that changed my life,” Hubbard said.
“I learned things about music I’ve been listening to for years and never knew its history,” he said. “The door, for me, was opened wide. At the end of that semester, Professor Vaughn said we had not even touched the surface.”
For Hubbard, now an ordained Elder in the church with plans to study theology in graduate school, the journey also doesn’t end on graduation day. He’ll continue writing and producing music, armed with the tools he received in Kent State Stark’s music technology program, building his business RodHubb Music Publishing.
“This,” he said, “is only the beginning.”