First-generation college students often encounter an unknown world when they arrive on campus. Bienen School seniors Thaddeus Tukes and Alexandria Hoffman are among a group of eight “senior standouts” featured in a recent article from Northwestern Magazine highlighting the perseverance and resilience of first-generation students.

Thaddeus Tukes: Good Vibes

When Thaddeus Tukes arrived at Northwestern, he found the music scene disappointing.

So he went to work, co-founding the popular student jazz-based band the Syndicate. The vibraphonist, who also sings for the 10-member groove group, played Dillo Day three times and later launched Ra Sol Greater Minds, a music-content consulting group that aims to raise awareness of student artists. “We’ll record, mix, master, make instrumentals, add live instrumentation — do everything really out of my apartment,” he says.

Tukes, who grew up in the North Pullman neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, joined the Associated Student Government as vice president of diversity and inclusion during his sophomore year and later became a spokesperson for We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern. That experience opened up incredible opportunities — like a behind-the-scenes tour of the White House on his 21st birthday — and exposed the inner workings of the University, for better or worse.

“It really put me on the inside of the University,” says Tukes, a Good Neighbor, Great University Scholarship recipient. “It opened my eyes not only to how Northwestern works but also to how it interacts with race, religion, gender and sexuality. Everything I did after that was influenced by that knowledge.”

After a whirlwind year, Tukes is “working to make sure that Northwestern is becoming a better place for its students,” focusing on issues of accountability to students and of diverse representation.

A jazz music performance major and music criticism minor, Tukes led the Northwestern chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists to student-chapter-of-the-year honors in 2015. He will study new media innovations and entrepreneurship in a new Medill graduate program next year. He’s also releasing an album — a live recording of his senior recital — in August.

Alexandria Hoffman: In Tune

Alexandria Hoffman spent her 18th birthday at band camp, and it was the best gift ever. “I didn’t enjoy high school very much,” says Hoffman, who admits that she didn’t really fit in at her school in Antioch, Ill., a town near the Illinois-Wisconsin border. “I was so ready to leave.”

Hoffman and her Northwestern University Marching Band peers arrived on the Evanston campus three weeks before the start of her first year, and she quickly found a home. “I met most of my best friends in NUMB,” she says.

The marching band, which took the piccolo player to the Gator Bowl her freshman year, has been part of Hoffman’s varied career that has included both classical and popular music. The flute performance and music education double major joined the Symphonic Wind Ensemble, the University’s top wind group, when she was a freshman. She took conducting with SWE’s conductor Mallory Thompson ’79, ’80 MMus, a professor who gave her “a totally refreshed view of music.”

“You spend a quarter on really intense conducting study,” Hoffman says. “You throw yourself into it, making yourself vulnerable in front of all these people in the class because conducting is such a different art form. That class totally changed me.”

Hoffman also performed with visiting artist and MacArthur Fellow and flutist Claire Chase as one of four featured soloists in the Chicago premiere of Salvatore Sciarrino’s Cerchio Tagliato dei Suoni at Northwestern’s Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall.

In 2015 Hoffman played in the orchestra for the Waa-Mu Show, which exposed her to an unusual musical experience. “You’re giving feedback to the writers, which makes you part of the process,” she says. “In the classical world that doesn’t happen, because most of the composers are dead.”

A Presser Scholar and recipient of a Margaret Morris Henderson Endowed Scholarship, Hoffman also served as music director for Sigma Alpha Iota, the women’s music fraternity, and led NUMB’s flute and piccolo section, an experience that allowed her to try her hand at teaching. She did her student teaching experience at Deerfield High School and Wilmette Junior High School last fall and plans to pursue her master’s in flute performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

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  • Mallory Thompson