As veterans assembled, their hands in rigid salute, Kristen McPeak paused – just a moment, as flags fluttered in the breeze. Then her soprano voice rose to the heavens, as she sang the national anthem during SUNY Broome’s annual Veterans Day ceremony.
Music is both gift and passion for McPeak, who is majoring in Vocal Performance and Education and will graduate this May. It has helped her cope with life’s travails, from homelessness to health issues, and has inspired her daily since the fourth grade.
In return, she would like to offer her gift to God, as a member of a religious order.
“Ever since I was little, I was interested in the religious life,” said the Maine-Endwell graduate, explaining her future plans. “It’s always been in the back of my mind.”
The singer is no stranger to poverty, one of the three traditional vows of a nun. When she was a young teen, divorce sent her family into a spiral of housing insecurity. Along with her mother and younger brother, she lived in a hotel, at her grandparents’ house and even at a women’s shelter for a while, until they secured a much-needed apartment. They lived there for seven years – only to be evicted this last Thanksgiving, when the landlord decided to move into the unit.
Now, they’re living again with McPeak’s grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s disease. In return, they do the tough work of caring for her – which is fine with McPeak, who had initially majored in social work. After two years of study, she opted against a career in the field and decided to pursue music instead.
“I knew I was the type of person who would take my work home with me. I wouldn’t be able to separate myself from it,” she said of social work.
SUNY Broome was the logical choice for her future. Substantial grants and aid paid for her education, along with a little help from a church scholarship.
She has found both opportunities to practice her art and a community ready to embrace her. As vice president of the Music Club, she and her fellow students organize events and aid instructors in the program. She and fellow music students frequently hang out together in the Campus Services lounge, catching up after class.
“I love those guys,” she said. “If someone’s morale is down, everyone chips in to cheer them up. It’s a nice community there.”
A mission of music
Commencement is an exciting time for Kristen, who acknowledges that achieving her degree has taken nearly five years. That includes both her change in programs, as well as time off to deal with health issues.
She plans to transfer to Hartwick College for a degree in music education, and then join the New York City-based Sisters of Life, founded in 1991 by John Cardinal O’Connor, the Archbishop of New York. While older orders often have education available on site for future nuns, the Sisters of Life encourages its future members to earn their college degrees beforehand.
“The Sisters of Life want you to get a four-year degree so you can get a taste of the world,” explained McPeak, adding that she was drawn by the order’s pro-life emphasis.
Life may have presented challenges to Kristen McPeak, but also gifts and grace. In return, she hopes to give back to the world, sharing her faith and her love of music with new generations.
“I think that my music was a gift to share with other people, and to help spread the love of being a Catholic and loving Jesus – to use that as a tool to teach people,” she said. “It’s what makes me get up in the morning.”