Cello brought solace to a young Salese Clark, ’23, B.A. Business Administration/Marketing. UW Tacoma transformed her.
Sunlight bounces off the quarter-sized silver sequins on Salese Clark’s jacket. The sequins shimmer, emit a glow that radiates outward from Clark. It’s hard not to think of a star, both the celestial kind and the more earthly ones who walk red carpets.
Neither of these comparisons quite fit Clark.
Born in Tacoma, Clark grew up in nearby University Place. She spent a lot of her young life in doctor’s offices. “I had a speech impairment,” she said. “I didn’t start speaking or walking until I was five,” she said. “The doctors thought I wouldn’t walk or talk, but God gave me a miracle.”
Clark slowly started to improve. “I did a lot of speech therapy,” she said. Clark made progress but still felt ostracized. “I tried to hide my speech impairment,” she said. “It was difficult for me to communicate with others and I started to fall behind in my education.”
Making matters worse, other students would tease Clark which led her to withdraw and go inward. “I really struggled with anxiety and depression,” she said.
Clark found solace in two places. “I started playing cello when I was in fourth grade,” she said. Clark still plays the cello and has developed a reputation as a skilled musician. She is often asked to perform for community groups and organizations throughout the Puget Sound region.
When she wasn’t playing the cello, Clark could be found doing homework. “In high school I made the decision to really focus on education,” she said. “That was my way out of what I was dealing with.”
Clark attended Curtis Senior High School. “I actually started college,” she said. Clark attended Tacoma Community College (TCC) through the Running Start program. “I really started to come out of my shell at TCC,” she said. “I looked at things differently and instead of focusing on people who were trying to hurt me, I shifted to thinking about how I could give back.”
While she may have stepped out of her shell at TCC, at UW Tacoma she transformed. “I became really close to the UW Tacoma community,” she said. “This place gave me joy and helped me find my passion and develop into an independent woman.”
This campus gave to Clark but she also gave back to the campus. “During my time here, I’ve spent 400 hours volunteering at UW Tacoma and around the larger Tacoma community,” she said. Clark is active in the Milgard School of Business’s Lead Your Way initiative. The leadership program is open to high school sophomore and juniors in the Tacoma/Pierce County area.
Clark is also active with the Black Student Union and received a Dream Award from the club at this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast. The Dream Award “recognizes UW students who have demonstrated a consistent commitment to diversity and equality through activism.” Off campus, Clark regularly volunteers at local food banks in Tacoma.
Clark’s hard work and perseverance have paid off. The first-generation college student is set to walk across the Commencement stage. Even more, she has been named one of this year’s UW Tacoma Chancellor’s Medalists.
All the acclaim hasn’t gone to Clark’s head. That’s why she doesn’t quite fit as an Earth-bound star who seem to exist in their own orbit. Clark’s warm personality and infectious smile make her more personable than stars that are millions of miles out in space.
There is no apt comparison for Clark. The best way to describe her is as someone who shines, with or without the jacket.
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