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Turning Point

Drummer Hits the Books

From pop-punk to poli sci.

Photo: Toni Gauthier

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When the day arrived last summer for new transfer students to visit Stanford, the sense of anticipation grew. "I am looking forward to meeting the former rock star," an admissions staffer told Sally Mentzer, who coordinates the advising program for transfers.

As Mentzer notes, that was perfectly accurate, yet someone still could have gotten the wrong impression. To meet Torry Castellano, whose career as a drummer has spanned recording studios, the set of Saturday Night Live and stages in Barcelona, Paris and Tokyo, is to realize how unconcerned she is with popular acclaim.

In fact, Castellano, '13, was somewhat intimidated by her new surroundings, and she recognized similar feelings among the other 18 transfers. To help cope, she tried to bring them together for karaoke, but then found a better lure: dinner at Mom's. "Pasta and meatballs," explains Castellano. "About 15 of them were there."

Mom is a Palo Altan, as was Castellano when she was growing up with the three female friends who became her bandmates, the Donnas. A pop-punk act reminiscent of the Runaways, an all-girl band of the 1970s, the Donnas have been recording and touring since the mid '90s. Plans were announced at the start of the year for a new album, but it will have to be made without Castellano. The victim of uncorrectable shoulder pain from tendonitis and repetitive strain injury, Castellano became one of rock's most youthful retirees last year. She turned 32 in January.

She didn't surrender her drumsticks easily. But months of rest hadn't worked. Over time, another part of her Los Angeles-based life grew in importance. She had enrolled at Santa Monica College—she took one final online when the band was on tour in Brazil—and began giving serious thought to full-time studies at a university, where she could reinvent herself. She applied to various schools that seemed like reasonable objectives, plus Stanford.

"I really didn't think I was going to get in," says Castellano. "When I got the acceptance email, I was shaking. And I didn't totally trust it, because it was email. I was crying. I had my mom read it."

No matter how accomplished transfers are before arriving on the Farm—Castellano's contingent includes a former Green Beret, a former radio DJ and a former professional dancer—there's enormous apprehension that comes with entering such an imposing environment. "That's particularly true," says Mentzer, "if they are transferring from a community or junior college," as Castellano did.

With the Donnas (www.thedonnas.com), Castellano shared a juicy image: "Pabst-swilling, sex-crazed party animals" was how a Los Angeles Times writer once distilled it. In reality, the article went on to disclose, they appeared to be "just regular girls" who liked iced tea, candy and watching TV.

Looking back, Castellano says, "There have been many crazy nights, many crazy tours. I don't want to kill the fantasy image of rock 'n' roll life. But there's also a lot of work that goes into being successful, and I was always involved in the business decisions."

The fall quarter at Stanford was partly about solitary nights of keeping up with assignments. But the rest of the experience, in class or almost any conversation on campus, played to her like an intellectual concert. "Politics, or religion, or philosophy. Everything!" Her first set of grades: an A and two A-minuses.

By winter quarter, she had declared a major in political science. That made sense, she said, because she now is thinking ahead—drum roll, please—about possibly applying to law school.

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