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Claire Berrigan TCS '13

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In his book On The Road, Jack Kerouac wrote this:

“…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”

He should have met Claire Berrigan.Claire Berrigan

She’s a student in The Clarkson School, the early college program for high school students. But think about it: who goes to college early? It’s not enough to be smart. There has to be more, like curiosity and enthusiasm strong enough to squash doubt. There has to be a fire inside.

Claire’s got all that. Keeping with Kerouac’s metaphor, her fuse was lit when her parents first put a violin in her hand. She was six.

Learning music is like learning a new language. But Claire couldn’t stop at just one. As her playing matured, she began performing in her home town with the Atlanta Youth Orchestra. Her repertoire expanded to include increasingly complex works by some of the world’s best-known composers. Their music inspired her to study. Claire summarizes this chapter of her life simply: “Dvořák taught me Korean.”

Amid all this intellectual ferment, high school felt limiting.

“You don’t get to have too many ideas in high school,” she says. “It’s more like teachers saying, ‘Here are the ideas you’re going to have.’”

So The Clarkson School was intriguing. Once here, it became engaging.

“First day, first business class, [Professor] Marc Compeau walked in and just started writing words on the blackboard.”

Creativity. Innovation. Competitive. Driven.

“He was talking about concepts. Concepts big enough for my ideas. It was like, finally! Room to think!”

Another thing she gets from this class is information—and, she says, a little inspiration, too. It’s fuel, something every fire needs.

"It leads somewhere. I see it as a way forward."

And because this coursework engages her, it's helped her find symbiosis between academics and her interest in the violin.

“Playing music is just counting and art,” she says. “That’s kind of like business.”

Music is also a lifeline for her. “When I start to miss home, I can just pick up the violin and play myself all the way back to Atlanta.”

Claire’s time in the Clarkson School ends next spring. What then?

“I don’t know,” she says. It’s not an expression of doubt. It’s more like a 19th Century explorer, spinning a desktop globe of the planet Earth. Soon, she’ll put a finger on her next destination.

“Clarkson’s a good launch pad. And I love the motto – ‘Defy Convention’ – yeah!”

Stand clear, everybody. Ignition’s started. And this rocket is about to take off.