Doctoral instructor shares key message in TEDx talk

By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau

Dr. Cheryl Lentz felt like a failure when, as a college sophomore, she was the only student dismissed from her school's music program.

Dr. Cheryl Lentz participated in a recent TEDx Talk.

To continue in the program, Lentz would have needed to pass an audition in front of a jury. But she didn't even get that far.

“One of my professors simply came into my practice room one day and said that my career in music at the university was over and that I was dismissed,” Lentz recalled.

She felt crushed.

So what did she do to cope with feeling like a failure? She muted her passion for music, specifically the organ. 

“I heard it as, ‘Oh my gosh, I stink, I’m the failure, I’m the worst thing ever getting dismissed from the program,’” Lentz recalled. “I should have realized that it wasn’t that I wasn’t good -- I wasn’t good enough to be at the level they were training. Think of the difference between an athlete in high school and an athlete in the Olympics. I was training to become one of the premier organists in the world … that’s what he (the professor) was training us for, but that’s not what I heard.”

Lentz, now an instructor and mentor in the College of Doctoral Studies at Grand Canyon University, has built her career on that lesson she learned and shared it in the classroom and as a public speaker. But in November 2019, Lentz fell in love with playing music all over again, this time on a baby grand piano, and then found another venue for that message -- she fulfilled her dream of giving a TEDx talk.

As an educator, Lentz was no stranger to TED talks; she even referred to them in her classes. She had applied to give talks before but had never been selected, so she still felt pessimistic about her most recent application, part of a process she described as extensive.

The theme for the TEDx Livestream was "The Truth."

“I was sitting on pins and needles,” she said. “And then I got the call June 2 saying, ‘Guess what? You get to play!’ ... I was so excited, I was over the moon.”

After months of memorization and preparation, Lentz took to the TEDx stage remote from Chicago to a stage in New York and shared her message of coping with failure. But because of the pandemic, she was in a nearly empty room -- it was being livestreamed.

“It’s interesting when you’re looking at the energy that you need to speak on stage, so I had to create my own energy in my head to be able to pull that kind of power out,” she said.

She spoke in a four-hour event that featured 15 other speakers. Lentz used her time on the stage to help spread her story and message to a wider audience in hopes of helping prevent others from reacting to failure the same way she did.

“What people don’t understand is that many of us in college do amazing things that we don’t realize are going to shape us for the rest of our lives,” she said. “Many of us don’t think of good things and bad things. That failure was the greatest gift of my career, but I didn’t realize it at the time.

“Things are just things. How we put them in context is what’s important because if you think you stink, then you do. But if you think you’re good, you are. Just because I played the music didn’t make me Mozart.”

The Farmindale TEDx event based on the theme, The Truth, which works well with Lentz’s message about changing your perspective of failure and not allowing it to negatively affect your life.

“The truth will find you,” she said.

It is the same message she shares with her doctoral learners. Lentz hopes that her participation in the TED event will open the door and inspire others who are interested in giving a TEDx talk.

“It was a magical experience,” she said. “It was very powerful, very emotional and very raw."

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].


Related content:

GCU Today: Initiative writes new chapter for doctoral learners

GCU Today: Doctoral faculty host virtual celebration for grads

GCU Today: GCU reaches 1,000 signed doctoral dissertations

GCU Today: Doctoral program goes the extra mile for learners


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