University of Arizona student earns fine arts degree decades in the making

UA tuba player earns her degree

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - As a musician, Kathleen Cluff knows a thing or two about keeping time. But time itself has had a funny way of working against her.

Born into a family of musicians, Cluff had the ability to play in her bones. Her instrument of choice in high school band was the tuba, unaware at the time it would take her far beyond those four years.

“I got a scholarship to the University of Arizona freshman year, full-ride,” she said.

Instead, the years turned into four children, as Kathleen married and focused on her family, putting her college career on hold.

She would try again in 1976, even reach her senior year, but the timing again would not be right.

"So I dropped school and concentrated on my kids,” she said.

Three decades passed and her children had children of their own. Then life for Cluff and her husband began to slow down in the fall of 2019 — enough for the dream in the distance to come into focus.

“I mean I’ve been able to do all sorts of other things in my life that are so important, but it was something that I’ve always wanted to do,” Cluff said.

Her daughter, Kimberly, granddaughter, and father were supposed to join Cluff on stage to play a piece at her graduation.

However, plans have now changed in the wake of COVID-19. But even that isn’t stealing the joy from her accomplishment.

“To be able to finally say, ‘Yes, I graduated,’ I have a degree in tuba performance that I started so long ago — it’s wonderful,” Cluff said.

The piece the family was going to play was specially composed for them by Marcelino Medley, another student at the university, titled “Generations.”

Cluff said they hope to play it for a live audience sometime soon.

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