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Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.
In her four years at Arizona State University's School of Music, Caitlin Kierum accomplished a lot, exploring her passions and finding new ones.
She is graduating in May with two degrees, a minor and two certificates — a Bachelor of Music in clarinet performance, Bachelor of Arts in English literature, minor in German and certificates in Jewish studies and human rights.
In addition to being enrolled in 23 to 26 credits each semester and working part time in the School of Music performance events area all four years, Kierum was involved in the Greek honors fraternity ASU Order of Omega and Sigma Kappa sorority, where she served as vice president of finance and then as executive vice president.
“One of the main highlights of my time at ASU was serving as an intern for Violins of Hope Phoenix, which tells the remarkable stories of violins played by Jewish musicians during the Holocaust,” Kierum said. “It was an incredibly rewarding experience for me as I am very passionate about Holocaust studies and educating others about such an important time in world history.”
Kierum, also a Barrett, The Honors College graduate, said the experience of writing her undergraduate honors thesis further reinforced her interest in the Holocaust. After taking a class on various issues surrounding the Holocaust and engaging in discussions about its representation and memorialization with Daniel Gilfillan, associate professor in German studies and information literacy, Kierum said she selected Gilfillan as her thesis chair before even deciding on a topic. With the ability to focus on any area of her choosing, she decided to compare the various film and literary representations of the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Israel.
Kierum’s time at ASU studying music, the Holocaust and more, also led her to a new path — the law.
“After graduation I will be attending the University of Michigan Law School in their Juris Doctor program,” she said. “It is one of the top law schools in the United States and I am incredibly excited to be at such a prestigious, beautiful place.”
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Answer: I came to ASU as a music education major, hoping to double major in biochemistry and eventually become a pediatric surgeon. By the end of second semester, I realized I didn’t like science and was having to sacrifice my music in order to keep good grades in science. I changed my double major to English literature and re-auditioned into the clarinet studio as a performance major so I could focus on the things I really cared about.
My second “aha” moment happened when I took my first class at ASU’s Law School and realized how interested I was in the law as a career.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
A: I learned that it is ok to not be 100% sure of what you are doing — that it is okay to be “in process.” Starting college, I assumed that I needed to have my life planned out completely and that I would just need to follow that plan to be successful. I learned that life is much more complex and it is important to be flexible and receptive to new opportunities. With my experiences of a series of double majors, I learned that it is incredibly important to have a sense of direction but it is ok when that trajectory changes. College is a great place to discover your true interests and gifts and to be inspired by professors and colleagues.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I initially discovered ASU because of Barrett, The Honors College. After researching ASU, I learned that the honors college had a great program and that Robert Spring was one of ASU’s clarinet professors. As I was choosing between the schools I had been admitted to, I found that ASU offered everything that I wanted for my college experience.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: I learned a great deal from my two studio professors, Dr. Spring and Dr. (Joshua) Gardner. My time in the clarinet studio as a performance major was a very formative experience — I grew tremendously as a person and as a musician. I was a shy, nerdy freshman who had very high, perfectionistic expectations for myself. Dr. Spring and Dr. Gardner helped push me out of my shell and I gained a tremendous amount of confidence in my playing and in myself as a person. They also helped me learn to balance my life and be successful, despite being extremely busy.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Make it a priority to figure out what you are truly passionate about and then devote the time to actually pursue those passions. As a student, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the daily responsibilities of being a music major. I found it helpful to think about the things that make music fun, whether listening to a different style or instrumental group or making time for a fun ensemble like Gospel Choir or Gamelan. I also believe it is important to consider and pursue passions outside of music to find balance in life. It is important to actually live and immerse yourself in the world, because growth as a human being often equates to growth as a musician.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: My favorite place is the School of Music courtyard. It is a frequent congregating place for students at the school, especially in between classes and before ensembles. It is a beautiful and peaceful area.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: If I were given $40 million to solve a problem on our planet, I would use the money to start a global nonprofit whose goal is to provide relief and aid to those experiencing modern genocide.