When approximately 400 new students arrived at Austin College more than a week ago, one of them was not straight out of high school or new to the Roo Nation.

Clara Harper is a third generation Roo and spent two years after high school training with the Louisville Ballet before deciding to go to college.

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[video courtesy of Austin College / Student Media Team]

Harper may be a long way from home, but AC “has always been a place that felt like home. I was especially attracted to the teacher program, which I hope to be a part of.”

She said the small class sizes and the mentor relationships that allows students to have teachers were also strong selling points for her.

Then, there were the other members of her family who were already proud members of the school's alumni.

“Both of my parents went to school here, as well as my maternal grandparents, and great aunt,” Harper said in an email.

She said she grew up hearing stories about going to school at AC from all of those people.

“They speak so highly of their experiences and what they learned in and outside of the classroom. My grandparents and parents were in the A Capella choir, and I am very honored to also be a part of it now,” she said. Her grandparents, Bettie and Bill Vandivort received degrees at AC. Bettie received a bachelors degree in 1972 and then a master's in 1973. Bill Vandivort received his degree in 1966. Harper's parents, Cheri and Michael Harper were members of the class of 1994. Michael Harper also received a masters degree from AC in 1995.

Despite the family connections, Clara Harper said, she isn't really sure if a small college in North Texas would have caught her eye had her family not had a positive experience there previously.

“Living in Kentucky we don't get a ton of information about schools in Texas,” she said.

Though her family planted the seed about AC in Harper's mind, it was the flexibility the students have to explore many areas of study and impression she got of the school on visits that sealed the deal for her.

Harper didn't arrive at AC straight from high school, however. She spent two seasons after high school as a trainee at the Louisville Ballet.

“I look at those two seasons with such pride as I am so glad that I took the opportunity to dance,” Harper said.

“However, I'm not going to lie, it was really difficult. I had the highest highs and lowest lows while dancing. It was such a whirlwind of choreography, rehearsals, performances, sewing shoes, and icing sore muscles. Ultimately I decided that however much I loved ballet, I wasn't going to be able to keep up with the lifestyle long term.”

Though she still has a great respect and admiration for professional dancers, Harper said she doesn't plan to focus on dancing at AC. But she doesn't plan to put away her dancing shoes either.

“I'm hoping once I get a little more settled to be able to start teaching ballet to kids in the community. One of the things I love most about the Louisville Ballet is their outreach program. They teach dance to kids across the state to who wouldn't get it otherwise and through that inspire a new generation of artists. I hope to start a similar program in Sherman while I'm here.”

Like a lot of the students who arrived at college this fall, Harper has yet to settle on a major.

“Like I said, I would love to be a part of the teacher program. I'm thinking about psychology or history as a major. One of the great things about AC is you get to try a bunch of different things, and I am going to take full advantage of that.”

She said she would love to teach in elementary school and might pick either the third or fourth grade.

Harper said she has loved her first week in Sherman but she isn't really that fond of the temperatures that greeted her and others as they made their way to their first classes.

“I am certainly not used to walking outside and feeling overwhelmed by the heat!,” she said.

While she is a bit older than most of the freshman who arrived on campus recently, Harper said she has loved getting to know the other students and listening to their stories.

“There is a wonderful sense of community all over campus,” she said.