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Recent NIU graduates haven’t had a traditional conclusion to their studies, but they do have a lot of great stories.

Over the summer months we’ll be profiling some of them.

Sarah CastroSarah Castro

Degree Earned: Bachelor of Music in Music Education with an emphasis in Voice
Hometown: Plainfield, Ill.
High School: Plainfield South
Transferred to NIU from: North Central College

What are some of your best memories of your time at NIU?
Some of my best memories are just walking around campus or just walking around the streets of DeKalb.  NIU is one of a kind and there were just a lot of unique things that would either happen to me or I would witness. A lot of times people would post things that you would see, like the hashtag #onlyinDeKalb, and that’s because it’s the truth.

In the School of Music most of my memories are about needing to practice and study. I would run into other students and I talk to them for hours. It was the perfect distraction from any work that I had to do. There was a hangout–mostly a congregation of students who were near the entry door by the large ensemble room or near Room 151. It eventually got called the black hole, because as you left the School of Music, someone would yell your name and say “hi” and talk to you, and then all of a sudden you got sucked into the black hole. You could talk for hours and often times that would turn into people getting food or hanging out at someone else’s house, just to continue being around each other. I made a lot of friends being a transfer student. I didn’t really know anyone at first, so a lot of times just that experience alone allowed me to get to know other students outside of my instrument area.

I have one more and it’s sillier. Dr. [Eric] Johnson made a reference to the Hash Slinging Slasher from SpongeBob. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment.

What’s next for you ?
Just working hard, paying off loans and teaching general music choir and voice.

What is one piece of advice or something you learned that you know you’ll be leaning on as you start the next phase of your career?
I know throughout my college career, I have always been a sponge and I’m just constantly absorbing information, absorbing experiences, taking in the people that I’m learning from and taking in the peers that I’m also learning from. I’ll definitely have that same attitude going forward in my career and in life. You learn in the moment. You try to take in everything that’s happening. I’ve actually been able to make excellent connections through my own learning to help me understand things, and through my way of communicating and teaching other people.

How was your experience at NIU different than what you expected when you started?
When I transferred it was out of financial necessity and I had to go somewhere that was affordable for the future I was pursuing.  When I transferred to NIU I didn’t realize that I stumbled upon a diamond in the rough.  The School of Music is such a gem. I had no idea that NIU existed in that way. The people, the students, the faculty are what make me thankful every day that I transferred. NIU isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it was my cup of tea and I drank it to the end. I didn’t have love for college until I came to NIU. I am proud to call NIU my alma mater.

If you could thank someone, or more than one person, that you didn’t get a chance to thank before you left, who would it be?
I definitely would like to give a special thanks to Dr. [Mary Lynn] Doherty, Dr. [Christine] D’Alexander, Lynn Retherford, Dr. Johnson, Dr. [Orna] Arania, and also to Barb and Joe King, even though they aren’t part of the College of Visual and Performing Arts. I want to tell all those people that they played a central role in shaping the person that I am today. “You are more than a professor and you teach more than what is in the books. You have no idea how I appreciate all of you and how thankful I am to be your student and have worked with you. Thank you for letting me continue your legacy throughout my life and career. I hope I can make you as proud as I feel to be a graduate of the School of Music.”

What is something you’d like to come back and do one more time?
Probably just performing and conducting. I had a great time. I had a blast performing. As a music educator I won’t really get that satisfaction, unless I pursue a professional choir, which maybe I will. I’ll be the one who’s teaching music instead of singing music.

What are some things you’re most proud of from your time at NIU?
There are a lot of things. I think I am most proud of being able to perform solos in orchestral and non-orchestral works, definitely the NIU Chamber Choir, and being the music director for NIU Penguin Players for three productions. I earned multiple music scholarships and non-music scholarships over the years. I’m just lucky enough to be recognized for the work that I’ve put out in the universe. For some reason, NIU said, “Yes, you are a good investment, here’s some money.” I’m proud to just be able to be a part of that.

If you could give some advice to the high school class of 2020, who will be starting at NIU this fall, what would it be?
I definitely say live by the motto ‘work hard, play hard and have an open mind.’ This is a chance for you to have a fresh start. While you are so fresh and green, please have an open mind. You’re leaving  behind the concept of trying to fit someone else’s box and now you’re able to shape your own box.  Allow yourself to start anew without others’ expectations. College can be fun, but a little too fun. You need to keep yourself in check on your own before you decide to hang out with friends. Get that paper done, or at least started. This takes practice. It’s a journey not an end goal. If you work on it now, I promise you that the balance you develop between work and fun in four or five years will definitely make you proud of yourself and the work you put into this world.

Anything else?
I was able to work with Dr. Johnson as a research assistant for the School of Music and that’s when my journey working with Cor Cantiamo started. I was working closely with him to promote the concerts, talking, getting people to come to the concerts, posting blurbs in church bulletins and also helping him write grants.

Keep an eye out for more profiles of the NIU College of Visual and Performing Arts class of 2020.