Victor Garcia dropped out of college when life presented an opportunity that was too good to pass up. That was back in 2003, and Garcia, then a junior-year music performance major at Northern Illinois University, was invited to record an album with Angel Meléndez and the 911 Mambo Orchestra. For a rising trumpet player in Chicago’s jazz scene, the offer from Meléndez was an enormous compliment to his musical chops and a stunning career break. Even if it meant missing finals.

The album, a huge hit, was nominated for a Grammy. And the band, including Garcia, went on tour to promote the album. The trusted mentor who had reassured Garcia that “school would always be here” when he was deliberating dropping out, had also encouraged him not to let too much time elapse before he returned to finish college. “A bachelor’s degree is something that I should have done a long time ago,” Garcia acknowledges now, a bit ruefully. “But life and musical opportunities kept getting in front of me and I couldn’t refuse them.”

It took Garcia two decades to finally return to college, but when he did, he chose Concordia University Chicago. Now, 39 years old and fresh from completing a Bachelor of Arts in music this spring, the musician is grateful for all that’s happened in his eventful life between leaving NIU and, finally, crossing the commencement stage in his cap and gown.

During his original stint as an undergraduate, Garcia enrolled as a music education major. He soon switched to trumpet performance, realizing he was more interested in playing than leading a school band. As it turns out, Garcia’s musical career has included not only performance, but plenty of teaching as he discovered immense joy in helping adult players develop as musicians.

For the rest of the story, check out the Spring 2022 Forester to read more about Garcia’s impressive career and how the renowned jazz musician ended up at Concordia-Chicago.