Kathleen Kuhnly’s UNH experiences inspire a future helping others

Thursday, May 12, 2016
UNH senior Kathleen Kuhnly in Times Square

Kathleen Kuhnly '16 never expected she'd be traveling to New York City to sing on the Carnegie Hall stage.

After two days of intensive rehearsal, Kathleen Kuhnly ’16 walked onto the Carnegie Hall stage as part of the Maine Festival Chorus, fulfilling a dream she never expected would come true.

Kuhnly went to a performing arts high school while growing up in Connecticut and attended Maine Summer Youth Music (MSYM). At UNH, Kuhnly had decided that while she would always love performing, her career path would be a different one.

“When I decided not to pursue a major in the performing arts, I never expected an experience like Carnegie would be part of my future,” she says, explaining she decided instead to major in psychology and minor in education.

The Carnegie Connection


Maine Festival Chorus at Carnegie Hall including UNH student Kathleen Kuhnly

When Rob Westerberg, Kuhnly's director at MSYM, encouraged her to become a part of the Maine Festival Chorus he would co-direct at Carnegie, Kuhnly did not hesitate.

“The Carnegie experience was unreal,” she says. “Stepping on that stage, time was standing still.”

At UNH, especially in this final semester, Kuhnly says, she has been fortunate to have many experiences like that.

Her philosophy has been to take chances, to try new things — whether rehearsing to perform with a chorus comprised almost entirely of strangers or joining a new student organization for her final semester at UNH.

Kuhnly’s retelling of the experience of walking onto the Carnegie stage, overcome with emotion as members of her family watched from the audience, resonates with anyone who has experienced the magic of a childhood wish suddenly becoming reality and then, all too quickly, transforming into memory.

She is also candid about the mix of excitement and trepidation she feels about her next step, her dedication to making a difference by spending her first year out of college with City Year AmeriCorps.

City Year is based on the belief that while education can help all children achieve, the obstacles that exist in communities with high rates of poverty can limit student access to education. The program selects young leaders from across the country to, as Kuhnly puts it, “serve where most needed.” That is exactly what she decided to do. In mid-July, she departs for Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“I’m terrified, but I know it’s going to be the best thing for me because I don’t know exactly what I want to do yet, except that I want to help people,” Kuhnly says.

Working with 50 other City Year members, Kuhnly says she expects she’ll learn a lot about herself. She also believes the experience will help her decide whether her current plan of pursuing a master’s degree in social work is the right one.

“I want to be that person who helps students realize you can be human in high school — that you can be an individual and you don’t have to be a robot doing what everyone else is doing,” she says.

Kuhnly doesn’t talk about her Carnegie experience or her plans for City Year without talking about what her time at UNH has meant to her.

Each year, she says, she has tried to do something new at UNH, and her activities have included performing in the Vagina Monologues, singing with the UNH Chorus and serving as a peer advisor in the University Advising and Career Center.

Less than two weeks before commencement, she was performing with Sisters in Step, a student organization, dancing on stage again for the first time in several years.

During her junior year, Kuhnly was a resident assistant (RA) in Christensen, and she served as an orientation leader for the Class of 2019.

“Being an RA was one of the best experiences I’ve had at UNH,” Kuhnly says “It is such a challenge, but you learn so much about yourself. It is so worth it.”

She says she loves being an orientation leader because, like being an RA, it demands leadership skills and offers the chance to help others. This spring, as a member of orientation senior staff, she’ll be working on campus in the weeks after graduation, helping the parents and guardians of the Class of 2020 learn to let go.

Choral Director Rob Westerberg with UNH student Kathleen Kuhnly
Courtesy photo of Westerberg and Kuhnly

“It’s like coming full circle,” she says. “This has been such an amazing place, such a safe space, being a Wildcat. I’ve made so many different types of friends. Because of my time at UNH, I know I want to find these kinds of connections and to help others in the future.”

Her advice for incoming UNH students?

“Prepare to grow in ways that you never imagined yourself growing in; prepare to change and embrace those changes. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and become an individual,” she says.

At UNH, she adds, opportunities abound.

“Take it all in,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes — there are people who are going to lift you up. Never think you’re alone, because there are so many people here who care. Wildcats look out for each other.”

Jennifer Saunders | Communications and Public Affairs | jennifer.saunders@unh.edu | 603-862-3585