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President’s Medal 2024 – Sofía del Pilar Roca Castro aims to use her degree to support music programs back home in Peru

Sofía del Pilar Roca Castro, a Music Education major, is the Dean's Award winner for the College of Arts and Letters and this year's recipient of the President's Medal. (Sacramento State Student Affairs/Hazart Sanker)

Sofía del Pilar Roca Castro was in high school when she began volunteering with a Peruvian government program that brought music education to schools in remote areas that barely had any roads.

The experience changed her life.

“I just remember arriving and all the kids being so excited to see our instruments,” Roca Castro said. “Excitement in their eyes to see that this could be them. They could do music like we were doing it.”

In those moments, she realized the impact music education could have and knew she wanted to dedicate her life to bringing the joy and transformative power of music to those who needed it the most.

Nearly a decade later, Roca Castro is well on her way to achieving her goal. The Sacramento State Music Education major is graduating this month as the recipient of the President’s Medal, awarded each year at Commencement to the University’s top graduate.

In addition, Roca Castro received the Dean’s Award for the College of Arts and Letters. Deans’ Awards are given to one student from each of Sac State’s seven academic colleges, with one selected to receive the President’s Medal.

“In the College of Arts and Letters, our priority is ‘graduation with purpose’ – defined not only by the career path our students take but by finding ways in which to live fulfilling lives,” Arts and Letters Dean Sheree Meyer wrote in her letter nominating Roca Castro for the President’s Medal. “It is evident that Sofía Roca Castro will graduate with purpose.”

Born in Lima, Peru, Roca Castro found music at an early age, playing the saxophone in school ensembles and eventually became an assistant band director. In 2015, she began volunteering with Orquestando, the program that brought music education and resources to troubled communities.

She also endured many personal challenges, including when the small fishing town where she grew up was heavily damaged by floods and when several close family members faced health challenges.

Despite her grief,  Roca Castro didn’t give up on her dream of going to college. She looked abroad because, she said, higher education in Peru lacks resources, among other challenges. She also wanted to broaden her experience and chose Sacramento State because of its strong music program and affordability.

“The band culture here and how much music is involved in the schools is really impressive to me, and it’s something I want to learn to implement later, at home." -- Sofía del Pilar Roca Castro

She began at Sac State in the fall of 2020, but it would be another year before she was on campus. COVID-19 pandemic restrictions determined that she would start her time as a Hornet taking classes on Zoom. She began in-person classes in fall 2021 and switched her concentration from saxophone to voice.

Roca Castro’s involvement outside the classroom has been just as impressive as her academic achievements. She participated in choral and opera ensembles and the marching band, and worked as a teaching assistant, customer service representative in the Welcome Center, resident advisor and campus tour guide.

“I really wanted to work on my social skills and language skills,” she said. “The jobs that I’ve taken have been challenging, and that’s why I took them, because I wanted that challenge in order to improve myself.”

Roca Castro’s family will travel from Peru to Sacramento to see her receive her degree and accept the President’s Medal at the College of Arts and Letters Commencement ceremony on May 17. After that, she plans to earn her teaching credential before getting as much experience in the U.S. as she can before returning to Peru to share what she has learned with music educators there.

“The band culture here and how much music is involved in the schools is really impressive to me, and it’s something I want to learn to implement later, at home,” she said.

In true teacher fashion, she says her favorite memories from her time at Sac State are from being in the audience for her friends’ recitals.

“I really enjoy seeing people grow and seeing their hard work and how much of themselves they’ve poured into their craft,” Roca Castro said, starting to choke up a bit. “Being able to be part of their journey has been very special.”

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About Jonathan Morales

Jonathan Morales joined the Sac State communications team in 2017 as a writer and editor. He previously worked at San Francisco State University and as a newspaper reporter and editor. He enjoys local beer, Bay Area sports teams, and spending time outdoors with his family and dog.

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