Kennedy Miller, a senior studying vocal performance and English in the College of Arts & Sciences, is Carolina’s 22nd Marshall Scholar. The prestigious Marshall Scholarship funds graduate studies in any field at up to two institutions in the United Kingdom.
Kennedy Miller, a senior studying vocal performance and English in the College of Arts & Sciences, has been named Carolina’s 22nd Marshall Scholar. The prestigious Marshall Scholarship funds graduate studies in any field at up to two institutions in the United Kingdom.
The Marshall Scholarship covers university fees, cost of living expenses, annual book grants, thesis grant, research and daily travel grants, and fares to and from the United States.
Founded in 1953, the scholarship finances the opportunity for young Americans of outstanding ability to study for a degree in the United Kingdom. The Marshall Scholarships honor the ideals of the Marshall Plan and are named after U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall. Marshall Scholarship selectors seek applicants who “have the potential to excel as scholars, leaders and contributors to improve U.K.-U.S. understanding.”
“Receiving the Marshall Scholarship is a great honor and a testament to Kennedy’s drive, dedication and talent while at Carolina,” said Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. “I congratulate Kennedy and wish her the best as she continues to study and develop as a leader and a performer in the United Kingdom.”
A native of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, Miller is the president of the Alpha of North Carolina Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, a member of Honors Carolina, a performer with UNC Opera, the vice president and manager of Carolina Choir, and a vocal and piano teacher with Musical Empowerment — a student organization that provides free music lessons to children in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community.
Music has always been a passion for the Tar Heel. Growing up in a family of musicians, Miller began pursuing a music career in high school.
“I started singing classically when I was a sophomore in high school and decided pretty quickly that that’s what I wanted to do in college,” she said. “It has just been an inextricable part of my identity forever. It just makes sense.”
At Carolina, Miller dove into her craft in her vocal performance studies. Though she had trained classically in her hometown, as a Tar Heel, she gained access to new training and opportunities that have propelled her career — most notably in opera. Miller joined UNC Opera during her first year in Chapel Hill and has performed in many operas with the group within the College’s music department.
“I really like the classical techniques of singing, but also really enjoy the telling of a story on a stage to an audience, and opera is a combination of those two things,” she said.
Her interest in classical singing and opera coincided with Miller’s increasing activism in social movements such as the March for Our Lives and #MeToo, which caused her to feel at odds with the music she was performing on stage.
“I found this conflict between opera, which is this very old art form and therefore has some misogyny and racism embedded in it, with this new identity I found in activism,” she said. “At UNC, I found ways to reclaim that power that might have been stripped from me in these original operas that might have disempowered women. I found little nuances in the music that really allowed me to present an empowered version of these opera characters.”
That desire to empower the women she plays on the stage carried over into her academic research, which traces the history of female protagonists in French operas and how the evolution of the ways characters are portrayed parallels the feminism movement.
Ultimately, Miller said, music is a tool for change and empowerment. She has spent her years at Carolina using her voice for social justice and ensuring that she passes that lesson on to young musicians as a teacher with Musical Empowerment.
“That has been the most rewarding thing that I have done at Carolina because just like talking about that empowerment that I feel with myself when I’m pursuing opera in ways that are countercultural, I definitely see that same empowerment take place in my students,” she said.
Now a Marshall Scholar, she will continue mastering her craft to maximize the impact she can make through music. Miller plans to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London to earn a master of music degree with a concentration in vocal studies. The program, she said, will allow her to expand her musical horizons.
“What I love about the Academy is that it introduces you to a diverse array of classical singing, so not only will I learn opera, but I’ll learn art song and oratorio,” she said. “I’ll graduate not only as a better opera singer but as a better classical singer.”
She also looks forward to an informal education from attending performances in London’s Royal Opera House, the Barbican Centre and at West End. Having studied abroad in London in 2019, Miller is eager to take in the city’s cultural aspects again.
Miller plans on continuing her research on the intersection of opera and feminism at the Royal Academy of Music, taking advantage of the extensive collection of handwritten scores in the British Library.
The chance to study and train in the United Kingdom, Miller said, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that she has been working toward since she first arrived in Chapel Hill.
“I’ll be part of this cohort of intellects that have ideas and expertise that are so different than mine. I know that by just interacting with them, I will grow for the better,” Miller said. “This is something that I’ve been thinking about and preparing myself for my entire four years at Carolina. It’s almost serendipitous in a way, and I’m just in disbelief that I’m moving to the U.K. for two years. It is such an honor to represent UNC as Marshall Scholar.”
By University Communications