Nathan Janzen graduates Dec. 17 from Viterbo University as a double major—music performance and finance—crossing the finish line with almost 190 credits, 18 of them earned while a student at Sparta High School.
Janzen accomplished this singular feat while singing in multiple choral ensembles, contributing to Viterbo’s student newspaper as a freelance writer and arts and entertainment editor, working many hours at the Tradehome shoe store in the Valley View Mall, and serving as president of the university’s National Association of Teachers of Singing student chapter.
His hardworking nature, ability to multi-task, and drive to learn was remarkable to Rochelle Brooks, a Viterbo business professor who nominated Janzen to be the undergraduate speaker at Viterbo’s upcoming winter commencement ceremony.
“Nathan does not use his busy schedule as a reason to not be exceptional in whatever he does. His attention to detail is at a very high level, which will make him valuable to any employer,” Brooks said. “Nathan did not approach his education as checking boxes; he takes all knowledge and experience gained and uses it to be an exceptional problem solver—always considering ethics in his decision making. Nathan will represent Viterbo well in whatever he does with his future.”
After completing graduate school, Janzen said he’ll most likely pursue a career as an opera singer or teach vocal music at the collegiate level.
While he has long shown a talent for singing, Janzen’s interest in opera came to him the summer before he started his Viterbo studies. Janzen was working as a window washer and, multi-tasker that he is, he listened to the “Opera Explained” audio series while he worked.
Early in his Viterbo studies he had an experience that confirmed that opera was his path. He was on stage singing in a sextet from “Don Giovanni,” an opera by Mozart, his favorite composer. “It’s definitely not easy music. I was singing next to some of the best singers in the department at the time, and I remember having this moment of clarity. This was it. That was the first time I felt like this is what I really want to do.”
In addition to his music degree, Janzen was determined to get a business degree, specifically in finance. “Because of my faith, I feel called to serve other people whatever I do,” Janzen said. “For me, finance had the most direct avenues to helping people. Being able to put numbers together and use them to help people has always been my goal.”
His two areas of study came together when he used a summer research fellowship to study the evolution of the role of opera manager, tracing it from its beginnings in the early 1600s to the modern day. “I love opera as a genre, and I wanted to see how I could relate my love of music to my finance and business coursework and see how people work and how jobs change,” Janzen said.
John Robinson, another Viterbo business professor, said Janzen is one of the most inquisitive students he’s ever encountered (and one of the nicest).
“He is relentless when he’s trying to understand a complicated business topic. His earnest inquiries helped drive class forward and elevated the level of dialogue in the room,” Robinson said. “He is genuinely interested in people in a supportive, kind way and is one of the most sincerely grateful people I have ever met.”
In preparing for his commencement speech, Janzen is keeping in mind the influence of Fred Rogers of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
“I love his emphasis on helping others remember to appreciate the people in their lives who have helped them get where they are today,” said Janzen, noting that his Viterbo professors deserve a lot of credit. “It’s amazing the love that’s been around me the whole time here, how much my professors have cared about their work and the work they’re helping me do. “That has helped me make music at a level where I feel confident going forward.”
One of his favorite professors is Dan Johnson-Wilmot, who began teaching voice to Janzen when he was a junior in high school. Janzen’s admiration for Johnson-Wilmot is reciprocal.
“Nathan is such a multi-talented person. He has a beautiful voice, and his level of enthusiasm is unrivaled in any endeavor he chooses to nurture and support,” Johnson-Wilmot said. “Nathan is a leader whose hard work and determination is supported by his innate intelligence.”
Janzen’s commencement speech also will include a grateful shoutout to his family, two of whom also have studied at Viterbo. His twin sister, Jessica, graduated last spring with a biology degree and is working for a year as a pharmacy tech before going on to graduate school. His mother, Tina, a fourth-grade teacher, earned a master’s degree in education from Viterbo in 1996.
Janzen’s commencement speech won’t be the end of his Viterbo experience. Three days after the ceremony, he will join Viterbo choral music students and faculty on a trip to Vienna, Austria.