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Sufjan Stevens: From Hope College to the Big Stage

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Lovers of Christmas unicorns and “Come on Feel the Illinoise” rejoice! Indie music darling Sufjan Stevens is returning to the Great Lakes State with shows in at Detroit’s Masonic Temple on April 27 and Calvin College’s Covenant Fine Arts Center Auditorium on April 28.

It’s a hot ticket because the Hope College graduate is a favorite of hipsters, who zealously follow the eclectic, colorfully costumed performer who once planned to write an album about every state in the union.

A singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Stevens was born in Detroit, raised in Petoskey and attended Hope College in the mid-1990s on a writing scholarship.

“I went there because I met all the professors in the writing program and thought, ‘This is incredible,’” Stevens told Magnet Magazine.

Professors of the Holland school allowed him to experiment and grow. For one class, he created a newspaper called “Pain and Promise Weekly,” where he used photos and poetry to analyze a semester’s worth of studies, remembered Hope English Professor Stephen Hemenway.

Stevens wrote and took photos for Hope’s student newspaper, The Anchor, publishing a now – perhaps regrettable? – rant against student fashion.

“Isn’t it time to rebel against mass-produced trends of Converse All-Stars and Jamaican peasant woman knit sweaters?” he implored his fellow students.

His Hope years were burst of creativity and productivity. He won numerous poetry, literature and writing awards. The one-time oboe enthusiast also experimented with music, forming Marzuki, a rolk/rock outfit named after his brother.

“My friend Matt found a spare set of keys for the entire campus, so we were always sneaking into various rooms to just make up music,” he told Magnet. “We were just goofing around at first, but it evolved into a band.”

In his last semester before graduating in 1998, Stevens recorded the album that would launch his career: the critically acclaimed “A Sun Came.”

It’s a career that’s fiercely followed its own beat, a trait no doubt forged by a small college that encouraged him to find his own muse.

It’s an attribute cultivated at Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities. Purposefully small, the schools are home to free thinkers whose ideas are allowed to blossom in ways that aren’t always possible at big institutions.

Often less expensive than public institutions, the independents boast higher four-year graduation rates and smaller class sizes for a truly unique and affordable experience.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.