“Our Royal Pride” is an occasional series celebrating Eastern Mennonite University’s undergraduate students who contribute to campus life in extraordinary ways in addition to their academic pursuits. These students enthusiastically create their own niches, constantly re-defining what it means to be an EMU Royal student “Like No Other.” Read more profiles here. Nominate a student with an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Josh Calderon didn’t expect to be won over by athletics. As a history buff with a passion for music, Calderon says that sports weren’t part of his life growing up. But that’s changed for the junior, who single-handedly revived Eastern Mennonite University’s pep band last year and is now its leader and primary composer.
The community aspect of D-III collegiate sports drew him in, he says. His new involvement—and the joy he finds in helping to create a positive atmosphere—might be the beginning of a new career path.
“It was really cool to see how you bring people together to cheer for that one thing, or be there for other people,” he says.
Calderon plays all brass instruments, composes and leads too
Calderon’s musical abilities are what led him to athletics in the first place. In sixth grade, when Calderon walked into the middle school band room, “the director looks right at me, and without me even trying any of the instruments yet, she says, ‘I know you’ll play tuba.’ and I go, ‘okay, that’s fine.’”
Middle school band was such a positive experience that Calderon knew he would continue playing music throughout his life.
He went on to learn all the major brass instruments. During his senior year, Spotswood High School started a pep band, and Calderon fell in love with that format of playing. Attracted to EMU because of its values, he was disappointed there was no pep band. During his first semester, he played for James Madison University’s “Marching Royal Dukes.”
At EMU, he started envisioning a pep band, a concept encouraged by music professor Ryan Keebaugh and the athletic department. The Royals pep band played at their first EMU basketball game in December of 2015, and Calderon discovered an athletic community he wanted to contribute to. He writes almost all the music the pep band performs.
“At the end of the day, when you walk home, your team could have lost. And yet, you’re still joined in this ‘band’ of other people,” he says.
“Both the fans and the athletes enjoy a game more when the EMU Pep Band is there, and Josh is a big reason for that, both as the director of the band and as a fan of the game,” says Sports Information Director James De Boer. “Personally, Josh has unique abilities and an internal drive which have stretched and invigorated me in promoting EMU athletics. Simply put, he is a lot of fun to work with.”
Questions always answered by faculty mentors
Faculty and staff support have helped guide many of Calderon’s interests. He recently added a photography minor to his history major, both because “it required me to go out and think in a different way” and the Visual and Communication Arts professors are accessible.
“I can walk up there [to the department suite] at any given time and ask a question, and if they’re not busy, it will be answered. And usually there’s a follow-up question!”
With no time in his schedule for a photography class this semester, Calderon is currently working on a self-directed project about mental illness. He photographed a friend, who is a trained dancer, portraying depression and anxiety through choreography while covered in various colored powders.
Calderon cites similar faculty encouragement as one of the best aspects of the history program. He also has pre-law and political science minors.
History plays into Calderon’s strength in research and love of learning. But he doesn’t see himself becoming a historian, or lawyer, or photographer, or band director (at least not professionally). Calderon credits De Boer’s pep band support and personal character for influencing his career aspirations, which are now turned towards sports marketing and communications. He’s also shadowed his girlfriend’s uncle at work, as a youth hockey liaison for the Washington Capitals.
“Just seeing how excited these kids were, just to come play on the ice … it was seeing that that brought me to the idea that I also really enjoy being in these environments,” he says. “There’s a need for happiness, and I think that sometimes, not for everybody, but sometimes sports fills that.”