A Note Above
Music education graduate finds calling despite setbacks
KENNESAW, Ga. (May 1, 2017) — Music has been her saving grace.
For Christina Vehar, who graduates in May in choral music education, earning her undergraduate degree has been an incredibly long journey full of hope, loss and determination.
A 2008 Harrison High School graduate, Vehar learned a month after her high school graduation ceremony that her mom, Diane, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She decided to delay her start at KSU for a year to take care of her mom and “be by her side.”
“It was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made,” she said. “It’s what I needed to do and wanted to do. I am grateful for that extra year with her.
“When I came to KSU, I think I had a different perspective than many of my classmates,” she said. “I had a different outlook on life.”
Vehar enjoyed working with young children and originally majored in early childhood education when she arrived to Kennesaw State in 2009. After nearly four years pursuing that degree, she changed her major to choral music education, essentially starting her bachelor’s degree all over again.
“The arts have always been a part of my life, but I never considered making a career of it,” said Vehar, of Powder Springs, Ga. “But looking back, music has always been my outlet.”
An elementary education course on how to incorporate music into the classroom was her first clue that she may have found a new calling. Her professor, Angela McKee, a part-time assistant professor of music and music education, complimented Vehar on her ability to instruct young students in musical concepts.
“Christina planted the seed and was thinking about music education, but she would be facing a huge challenge to shift majors,” said McKee.
While most music education majors have spent years training and performing musically before coming to college, Vehar had never taken a vocal lesson or played the piano. She played violin for a short time in elementary and middle school, sang in her elementary choir and performed in musical theatre in high school. But with little musical training, Vehar braved the immensity of learning new musical skills.
“Christina knew those hurdles would not be permanent, and pushed out of her comfort zone and worked so much harder, knowing that it would help her later in her career,” said Alison Mann, associate professor of choral music education and Vehar’s academic advisor.
Friends and family advised Vehar to finish her bachelor’s degree and then earn a master’s degree in what she really wanted, but she said she had to follow her heart.
Vehar demonstrated that tenacious trait early in her KSU career. After completing her first three semesters, her family suffered another devastating blow when her dad passed away unexpectedly. Two years later, her mom faced another round of chemotherapy after a thyroid cancer diagnosis – the second of three cancer diagnoses, and an amputation – that she would endure while Vehar was in college.
The oldest of three children, Vehar confronted that adversity head on with solid faith and strong support from family and friends. She persevered and focused on earning her degree.
“My professors were so supportive and cared about me,” she said. “They wanted to build me as a musician but they also wanted to build me as a person, too.
“There were so many people who believed in me, on the days I didn’t believe in myself,” she said. “There were times I thought that I wasn’t talented enough.”
Watching Vehar develop as a musician and an educator over the years, Mann explained that, despite so much going on in Vehar’s personal life and the academic hurdles in music, she showed up every day with a rare sense of focus.
“She was really up against some insurmountable challenges,” Mann said. “But she always had a silent strength about her and a maturity about having her eyes on the prize.”
With a passion to teach, Vehar landed a student-teaching position in music in Cobb County School District’s Ford Elementary. Although music education covers K-12, working with the younger set “sealed the deal,” she said, blending her early children education interest with her music education degree.
“She has such a strong passion for doing this and she works incredibly hard,” said McKee. “The power of her desire to teach music education overcomes her lack of previous musical training and preparation. It is a miracle to watch this happen.”
Vehar’s creative gift shined in the classroom, but also on the stadium field. Vehar was a captain for KSU’s color guard team for the past two years, including the inaugural 2015 season.
“If I had graduated in 2013, before I changed my major, then I would not have been able to be involved with football at KSU,” said Vehar, who greeted the extended time at KSU with excitement.
Despite the struggles their family has endured, including the loss of their father
and their mother’s illnesses, the Owl spirit spread through the Vehar family. Younger
brother, Daniel, graduated from KSU in 2014, and younger sister, Liz, is currently
pursuing a degree in communications.
- Tiffany Capuano; photos by Lauren Lopez de Azua
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the second-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 126 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.