Silly Mr. Holland’s Opus question

I recently lucked into another showing of Mr. Holland’s Opus on cable.  That movie arguably changed my life and played a major role in my choice of career, but that’s a story for another day.

There’s one question that has always bothered me about that movie, though.  I thought I’d ask it here, even though the only result of doing so is likely to be just the opportunity to vent my frustration.  I’ve looked online for the answer and never found it.

** Spoiler alert **

At the end of the movie, when everyone comes back for the celebration in the auditorium, we see many of Mr. Holland’s former students.  The most prominent one is, of course, Gertrude Lang who he taught to “play the sunset” and eventually became governor.

My question is, whatever happened to Rowena?  There was foreshadowing about her all over the place.  She got on the bus to New York to become a singer.  Mr. Holland himself said that one day we’d all say we knew her when.

So what happened?  Did she make it?  Did she become successful?  Was she unavailable at the end because she was in a show somewhere?  Or did something dark and terrible happen to her?

I’ve always wanted to know.  If anyone here knows, please tell me.

60 responses to “Silly Mr. Holland’s Opus question”

  1. I am watching MHO right now and was wondering the same thing, so I googled the question.
    One of three things happened.

    1. Something dark or shaded at least. I don’t want to think about that scenario.

    2. She received the name of a friend of Mr. Holland. So, that lays the foundation for some type of communication. Some way for Mr. Holland to at least know if she “made it”. Maybe she did, but Mrs. Holland just didn’t want to invite her…

    3. Rowena, grew up and came to the conclusion that though she did “love” Mr. Holland, she had acted foolishly. She grew to look back at that little moment of her life as very embarrassing and therefor chose to forget it and not “return” to that time.
    Maybe she realized what a great man Mr. Holland truly was, because he did not take advantage of a wide eyed young lady.
    Even after she heard about the reunion, she could not bring herself to return.

  2. I’m hoping there’s one other possibility. She’s the lead actress in a Broadway show and had a performance that evening. Or maybe she’s on a TV series, or doing a movie, or touring Europe, or something like that. She simply couldn’t get there that night.

    Maybe she went totally goth, spiked her nose, joined a screamo band that went double platinum, and she was on the way but arrived too late because they got lost.

    What an entrance that would have made. 🙂 I just wish they’d tied up that loose end.

  3. that old movie came back on.
    i was wondering the same question.
    obviously, the author or authors wanted to leave that as a suspenseful open ending.
    like “which of the two doors did the one he walk through lead?”.
    Ive always hated those endings.
    I’m wondering of course what the authors had in mind?
    thats my next search to hunt them down 🙂

  4. I think it was just an writing or editing blunder. They simply failed to close the loop, even if merely with a vague hint, at what happened to Rowena. It could have been done very easily and quickly–a note of regret at not being able to attend for some reason, such as a play or TV or movie commitment, couldn’t get off the burger joint shift, had to make a defense before the Supreme Court, kids had a game that nite; a copy of a playbill from her Broadway play that evening inserted in Holland’s sheet music; mention by the Governor. It’s a major hole, and I think it was just a screw up.

  5. The fact that it would have been so easy to fix means that either the producers forgot, the answer was something very dark, or she stayed away because his wife told her to. Of course, there didn’t appear to be a vocal part in the American Symphony #1 anyway. I just hope it wasn’t the shame of appearing on American Idol. 🙂

  6. I like Tom’s 3rd suggestion, that she grew up and realized that returning would be, at best, an embarrassing and possibly painful distraction on Mr. Holland’s big day. I like to think she did make it big, but even if she did Mrs. Holland might not have known how to contact her. This question has always bothered me as well, but I think the fact that it was left unresolved is a plus–life is usually full of open endings….

  7. She grew up, got married, then reminisced much like Glen Holland’s wife about once being in love with her music teacher. That was the clue in the beginning. I just closed the loop.

  8. Spartacus Jenkins Avatar
    Spartacus Jenkins

    When she auditioned, Mr Holland didn’t know who she was. Then Rowena talked about how she enjoyed his class. What gives?

  9. I think the entire point was sometimes you do everything you can for a student and they move on, even in a direction that you may think is a mistake, and you never quite know what happened with them. Frankly, that idea is much more poetic to me than if she had become a Broadway star. That’s my two cents anyway.

  10. It always bothered me that we never found out what happened to Rowena. All the possible outcomes suggested crossed my mind except her being embarrassed about seeing Holland again. There was too much respect that I cannot accept this suggestion.

    There was another even more distressing part of the film. Governor Lang comes back to honor Holland when he is forced into retirement and does nothing to make sure that funding for the arts in school is preserved. Her life changed because of confidence that she acquired because of Holland and music. She became a callous human being and I was disgusted by her character.


  11. Yikes. It never occurred to me that the Governor had the gall to show up but not bring in the tiny (to her) amount of funding necessary to restore the music program. I’ll never see that scene the same way again. Sigh.

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  13. I hear you Ken and that would have been a nice touch to the end of the movie. In real life there are budgets, committees, boards and a whole range of services and obligations for which a state is obliged to pay. A Governor does not control the purse strings. In this light, the movie actually stayed closer to reality. Here’s to more happy endings and a happy new year!

  14. I was thinking about the same thing. But remember the gershwin song she sang?

    Perhaps the lyrics were what rowena wished her life would be. For someone to watch over her. And Mr. Holland has been watching over her in his own way even though not physically present but spiritually.

    does what I say make any sense? 🙂

  15. I figure she was a bit upset that her teacher would facilitate her leaving high school when she probably only had a matter of weeks left to graduate instead of giving her better advice.

  16. I think it’s meant to be left unanswered. He only really knew her for a month (average practice time for a highschool play), they profoundly changed each other’s lives, and then they grew apart. That’s a huge part of the human experience Sure she was in new york 15 years earlier (previous to lennon’s shooting in 1980) but that’s a long time. Remember in 1995 there wasn’t all this social networking, so the suggestion is she didn’t make it huge or she’d have been easy to find, but that’s no reason to think something horrible happened. She may have changed her name or got married and be singing in lounges in vegas or coffeeshops or off broadway.

  17. I agree…Probably Iris did not want to invite her.

  18. This is the best explanation I’ve seen for it (Rowena was a personification):

  19. I agree that’s a great explanation of what the character represented, but she was still a real character in the movie. The character would have been in her 40s at the retirement ceremony anyway. It’s still hard for me to believe she would miss it, assuming somebody let her know about it in the first place.

  20. I ran into some bad people upon arriving in NYC at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and became the victim of a homocide featured on a forgotten episode of Law and Order.

  21. Oh, I thought I saw the Rewena death on Cold Case

  22. Since it was about them playing Mr. Holland’s Opus and she did not play an instrument, there was no reason for her to be there.

  23. I found her… She did make it big!

  24. I don’t think it had to do with Holland’s wife not inviting her, since I don’t see how she would have known about them. He didn’t seem to talk about it much outside of being with her. I still think she could have went even though she didn’t play an instrument. From what I understand, the whole auditorium was filled with his former students/Co workers. I hate to say it, but there is also a strong possibility she had gotten into drugs and died because of that, or just had herself in a place where she couldn’t attend. But I don’t really think she passed away since when the kid who played the drums (can’t remember his name) passed, Mr. Holland was notified and went to the funeral, so I’m guessing the same could have been done for her.
    Also about the Governor thing, when I first saw the movie, I thought she was actu ally there to say that she was saving the music program or something to that effect. It isn’t really fair to say she did nothing, because for sure we really don’t know. She is a governor after all, she could have tried to get laws passed to help schools in her state get funding for music and arts programs after she heard the news about it being cut, and things like that do take a while, so by the time the laws were passed and actually went into effect, Holland would most likely be on the verge of retirement anway.

  25. I’m work in education sometimes even the good students just move on and never look back. If she had made it big I think it would have been at least mentioned. Most people who try their luck in show biz don’t make it and just disappear.

  26. OK so I see the last post here was in Dec. But I have to point out to Vinny you seemed to have missed that as soon as Iris sees on the program who this amazing singer is she knows that her husband lied to her about Rowenna’s Theme the new part of his symphony she then notices that Rowenna is singing directly to Mr Holland she stares at him without looking anywhere else throughout the song so much so it makes Mr. Holland nervous near the end he looks away. So Iris knew something was up and he was very frustrated at this point from having no time to himself to write his music and her look and lame excuse about getting Cole home by what 10pm on a Sat. Night she knew something was going on and was at least at little worried what might happen that night so when he comes home and at a what I have to assume is a reasonable hour kisses her goodnight saying I love you she says I know and leaves off you came home like I expected

  27. Rowena’s fate was left ambigous for cinematic reasons. Her role in the movie was to show how teachers have weaknesses as well as other human beings. Also to show how the role of educator and student can often be intimate (not saying sexual) and how teachers can see themselves in students. Wrapping up the story of Rowena with a bow would be fan service and just silly. My question is did she quit school or did thee event coincide with graduation.

  28. NYC was a tough around that time, so hopefully her life spiral out … But that was my assumption because she was not there.

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  31. Fictional character I found but yeah the same thing bothers me ! Not for long though.

  32. Characters are confusing

  33. Mr. Holland has talent

  34. Perhaps Mr. Holland’s wife made a point not to have Rowena contacted about his “retirement” and celebratory concert…..

  35. This thread is fantastic. Here is my 2 cents:
    I think Rowena would not have returned, even if invited, because she has simply moved on. She was young and vulnerable, obviously had a rough home life, and what she felt for Mr. Holland was a reflection of that. She was the little lamb lost in the woods. I don’t think she fell by the wayside, she could have been on broadway or touring, she could have made a career as a backup singer or studio singer, she could have been a lounge singer.. doesn’t matter. She moved on with her life. Young girls have crushes sometimes, and grow out of them in maturity, i.e. Iris and her music teacher. (I can relate.. in college I was one of those silly girls, with a silly infatuation for MY music teacher. Thought I was in love with him.. in retrospect, its not a time I am proud of.. a bit embarrassing.. I don’t like to think about it.)

    The link provided by JJ in a recent post on this thread is no longer active, but this is what I think: I think that Rowena was representative of the life Mr. Holland wanted; to make his music, to pursue commercial success, to follow his dream. The professional music/gigging scene can be very seductive, and remember- his teaching gig was only supposed to last 4 years. In that moment that he sees Rowena off, I think there is a split second that he is almost seduced by that lifestyle… her proposition was enticing, but his kiss and return to Iris and symbolic for him finally letting that life go.

  36. Well, the topic has been bantered about here it seems for several years, so I thought why not chime in. This is one of my favorite movies so bear with me. I used to wonder why she
    s not at the finale as seeing her would have been the one last connection that came full circle. All the other students he touched (that we saw) either returned to the finale or had a dark ending (Lou Russ, for example). But, her character is different. She is the only character to break the student-teacher shell. She becomes more intimate and gets to know him on a more personal level. This intimacy, while great in the movie, would have been divisive at the finale. The finale is a celebration of everything He did and the family he built. Her character caused discord and would have been distracting from the message of the finale.

  37. I have wondered the same. I also would like an update regarding his son. I would like to think both their lives would have been interesting enough to spawn another one or two movies. Mr Holland’s Opus was a life changing movie for me, as well

  38. You forget that she ran away from home. Maybe she did not want to have to face her family ( small town). Possible

  39. I have the same question as to Rowena Morgan’s future and the out come of her big step to persue her singing career .

  40. Same question!

  41. I’ve always wondered as well! Silly that she doesn’t show up at the end

  42. Just watched it again! I love this movie.

    I always assumed that, like most wannabe actors/actresses, singers, etc., she never made it. After a few years of trying, she gave up on the dream. Probably ended up getting married, popping out a few kids and living a normal life. I see her absence at the end as a realization of failure on her part. She probably told her family, friends, Mr. Holland…that she was going to be a huge star and it never happened. She didn’t want to return and face Holland for him only to find out that her dreams, not unlike his own, never really panned out.

  43. I’VE BEEN TRYING TO FIND OUT FOR SO LONG ‼️Someone needs to find the truth

  44. So I’ve just finished watching this movie. I’m sick in bed flicking through channels and stopped mid way through. I was captivated. So like all of you I so wanted to know why Rowena was not ever mentioned after she left. My theory she returned to take over her family’s little restaurant in town. She resented Mr Holland for rejecting her and making her think she was going to make it big in New York and therefore did not attend.

  45. I just watched the movie again. And yes this question has bothered me for 25 yrs now. I do think the director should have had some nod to her since they spent a fair amount of the movie on that relationship. I believe Mr. Holland could have just been reading the entertainment section of the paper and there was a quick blurb about her starring in something or anything. Seems like every student he spent a little time with got an update, but not her. I thought it was odd and a mistake by the screenwriter.

  46. I love that solution. That would have been easy and handled the problem with minimal screen time.

  47. I too have wondered about this question. Just read through all the replies. FWIW, I like PV’s response. Viewed that way, the story line was completed. It was a metaphor for the letting go of dreams all middle-aged people experience when it is realized certain long-held dreams cannot, or will not, be achieved.

  48. After all thease years!!! I also just watched it for the first time!!!!! How about a remake of the movie!!!!!!!! Include a few answers!!!!!

  49. I know it’s been a while since anybody has commented on this thread. I wish we had an answer by now. I would hope that at some point somebody was able to ask the director or actors in the movie this question about Rowena. Does anybody else have any new information? It’s funny that a fictional character’s fate lives in my head rent-free but I want to know what happened to her.

  50. Matthew B Arellano Avatar
    Matthew B Arellano

    I have to agree with Tom

    I found her… She did make it big!

  51. My wife and I just watched MHO. We’d seen it before quite a few years ago before anyone ever heard of Netflix. I, too, want to know what happened to Row. If you find out, let me know.

  52. I’m surprised how many people feel there was a need to make a nod to Rowena in the film’s ending.

    The film is about Glen Holland. His students are merely in his orbit. Rowena represented one last call for Mr. Holland to pursue his original dream: a life in writing and performing music. Rowena was that youthful spirit who connected with him musically, who saw his potential, even sang his song. She was the last lure; her talent, her beautify, her energy – it all was a potential pull for Mr. Holland to leave everything and chase that life. But he realized that that life was no longer a possibility. He had a family. A community. It’s why we see him pouring through family photos during that sequence. He knows it’s past him. But being the good teacher he is, he tries to help her land softer by offering a contact in New York.

    To even reference Rowena in the end would’ve been typical Hollywood schmaltz – the stuff of Hallmark movies. Life isn’t like that. We all move on. I can’t even begin to think of all the people in my past who I’ve thought about – where are they, what happened to them? People I knew way back in school who despite only knowing for a year, a few months, left such an impact that decades later they still cross my mind. Sometimes we just don’t know. That’s real life.

    When Rowena got on the bus and it disappeared into the night, her role in the story ended.

  53. So, I just finished watching this movie again and thought I’d search for some sort of deleted scene explanation about Rowena. For years, I naturally assumed something dark happened to her like drugs or some sort of acting roles in smut films. Having looked at some of the other explanations though, I still think it was possible for her to have shown up to at least be in the crowd with her husband and kids. The idea that it would have been an awkward situation for anyone isn’t necessarily true. Time heals and Mr. Holland was older and knew he made the right choice for himself and did the best he could to help Rowena. If Rowena had made it big, he obviously would have been proud of her. If she hadn’t, but at least found a degree of happiness, he too would have been happy for her. In return, Rowena would have been thankful that he at least played a significant part in her life, had an impact, and that would have been the most important thing for her, whether she made it as a singer or had led a happy non-celebrity life. She would have also been at the age where she could look back on her crush on him with fondness, but in a realistic light. She would have come to terms that he was a family man and that her infatuation with him was just the way a young girl desperate to share her passion not only with the world, but with another that had a similar passion and desired to walk that same path at one point. As for Mrs. Holland, I’m sure she had the intelligence to see all of that in Rowena with the benefit of hindsight and once she found out Rowena was happily married with kids, it would have been water under the bridge.

  54. We just watched the movie tonight as a family. SO good! But of course the Rowena thing brought me here. I just wanted to know what happened!! I choose to believe that she made it big and wasn’t able to attend.

  55. The Rowena “subplot” was the main thing that stuck in my head, and the first thing I remember about the film. The choices Glenn made… I can’t say makes him a better man, but we all deserved closure with Rowena.

    PS I would’ve made the same choice, for better or worse.

  56. Hey I have the answer! LOL – should’ve researched more before I made my last comment.

    OK, Jean Louisa Kelly is being interviewed in the RetroZest podcast. At the 32:24 minute mark, they go into it. She did come back! Except it didn’t test well.

    She did become a stage or screen star. If you rewind earlier, she also says she wasn’t meant to play Rowena.

  57. Wow, you’re right. I had no idea they actually shot a return scene and decided not to use it. Now that she mentions it, though, I can see why people might not be happy to see her there. Still, you’d think there was some way to do it, but oh well.

    Thanks for the link to the podcast. 🙂

  58. I’ve seen clips from this movie in leadership training workshops for years, but hadn’t seen the whole film from beginning to end for like 25 years before today. I had completely forgotten the Rowena story line. Back when I first saw the film, and even today I was completely obsessed about that story line which lead me to this web site. Glad to see that I’m not the only one who wondered whatever happened to Rowena.

    Now by way of full disclosure, I have worked in both education and entertainment. From both these perspectives, I have to say that Peter’s answer above was the best. From an entertainment perspective, in the best tradition of storytelling, in a film about Mr. Holland, knowing Rowena’s fate isn’t necessary. After listening to RetroZest podcast (thanks to Norton for posting that) I can see why a scene at the end wouldn’t test well. While it might resolve a curiosity, it doesn’t really serve the opus of Mr. Holland’s lifetime journey. And the reality is that he would never likely have ever learned of what happened, or perhaps learned of her success from his old band mate chose to tuck that away in his heart as one more job well done. And that leads me to the education perspective…

    As a teacher or a youth leader you regularly come into relationship with kids only to have those relationships end with the school year or with your time together. You almost never hear or learn about their lives or futures. Nor do we really know how much of an influence we may have had on them. There’s a saying in that business: “We’re just planting seeds – seeds that we may never know when they might bloom.” And yet, we keep planing those seeds. In doing so, from time to time, you run into those younger people who have real talent or interest that fits so well with you personally. They demonstrate a certain maturity that can be appealing, and there could even be a personal attraction, but as a teacher and as a leader you also remember the importance of maintaining certain boundaries, as Mr. Holland did. Young people don’t generally know or understand these boundaries, so he played the grown-up, even though his youthful heart might have been tempted, because he knew better. Knew better for himself, and more importantly, knew better for her. Which takes us to what Peter and others have noted above – people come into and out of our lives with regularity, and we don’t always know what happened to them. That’s real life. For those relationships that really touched us emotionally, they become a sweet memory in the much larger tableau of our lives. Which takes me back to the entertainment perspective…

    While I might not like that the Rowena story line wasn’t brought to a close, the fact remains that it didn’t need to be in the telling of Mr. Holland’s Opus. Open threads are annoying, but here again, closing it would not serve the story and push it further away from real life experience. That said, I bet you could find her in that audience in the closing scenes.

  59. I just watched this for the first time in over 20 years, with my teen daughter, and immediately came to this site after googling… I too wondered why the hell there was no wrap-up of the Rowena plot. I love that someone dug up that interview with the actress and I now know the scene was shot and then cut due to a negative test screening response, which for some reason makes me able to breathe easier.

  60. I don’t think it was meant for us to know, exactly what happened with Rowena Morgan. I think, that she most likely did make it in New York. After all, she was a great singer! I think it’s is just supposed to be left up to each of our own conclusion. But, did anyone notice how awful they made Glen’s wife look when she was in the audience watching Rowena? They were obviously comparing the two. I think it wasn’t right that they did that. Every time I watch it, it always bothers me. They certa6did not have to maje her look older and worse than she really looked to make Rowena appear prettier. She looked great at the end of the movie! R I.P. Glenn Headley.

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