Among the Bryant High School seniors receiving their diplomas tonight will be a young man who pursued his dream and next fall will join the drum line of the Arkansas Razorbacks Marching Band.
Payne Roberts, defying the advice of well-meaning family members, auditioned to play snare drums with the prestigious band on April 28 and was among the 10 chosen for the drum line.
Interestingly, Payne isn't an experienced musician as are most selected for college band membership. Indeed, he didn't pursue this interest until his sophomore year of high school.
"I became interested while watching our band," he said, "and I taught myself how to read music off the Internet."
He has been part of the Bryant band since his junior year, but has been playing snare drums with the group for only the current year.
Payne said he received a few lessons from a former student at Bryant and had a couple of private lessons from a former percussion director, Jon Doty, who's now in flight school.
"I was more interested in mallet percussion, which I learned from the current director, David Hutter," he said.
Noting his ability to catch on to the drum beat, he said, "I must have always had it in me."
Until his final years in high school, he had received no music instruction other than what was offered in a seventh-grade class, Roberts said.
He doesn't even sing, nor does he dance.
"But on Aug. 11 I'll be moving to Fayetteville to start band practice for a week before school starts," he said. "The first week we'll be learning our initial routine.
"I'm very excited," he said. "This is my dream come true. I've always wanted to go to the University of Arkansas and be a Razorback."
One of his classmates and good friends, clarinetist Hannah Mills, also will be part of the Razorback band.
While Payne's drum skills are a relative new interest, his association with the Saline Courier has been part of his life almost since birth.
The grandson of longtime Saline Courier carrier Sylvia Watson, he began riding with his grandmother on her routes when he was "just a baby," Watson said.
"And he's been a regular carrier here himself for eight years," she added.
"When he was 10, he started his own route," Watson noted. "He asked the circulation director if he could have the route at The Greens, where he lived.
"And that's still his route," she added.
"I also work at the golf course at The Greens," Payne said. "I started working there the first day of my sophomore year and work about 30 hours a week."
At U of A, he plans to major in engineering, but isn't sure what type. "I think of the first year of college like a buffet — I'm going to see what's available. The first year covers all the branches of engineering."
Thus far, his grades are good. He is graduating with a 3.8 grade-point average.
Now that everyone is convinced Payne really wants to be a percussionist, he gets lots of encouragement, Payne said.
His grandmother says she and her husband, Irby, have no problems sleeping while Payne is practicing the drums at their home.
"We can see how happy he is, and it's great to see how enthusiastic he is," she said. "We're glad he's found something he wants to do."
Initially, though, Watson was one who discouraged Payne from auditioning for the U of A band because she didn't want him to be disappointed if he hadn't been selected. She said she was thrilled that her fears were unwarranted.
"We were all so shocked that he was selected — not because we didn't think he was good," she said. "We just knew how many were trying out for the band."
Payne is the son of Deann and Mike Roberts of Bryant and also the grandson of Charlotte Roberts of Oklahoma.