Senior Sydney Clarkin and Science Olympiad coach Chad Brown bond through singing together outside of school

The pair’s friendship is strengthened by time spent practicing their music and performing at church and school


By Hunter Ristau

Starting off the Easter service at Common Grace church located in Olathe, Kansas, physics teacher Chad Brown and senior Sydney Clarkin perform the song “Awake My Soul” by Mumford and Sons Sunday, April 21. “We were just talking about music one day and I showed him the song ‘Waiting on June’ and I was like, ‘I really want to try this sometime’, and he was like ‘Why don’t we?'” Clarkin said. “He just brought his guitar to school one day and we started working on it.”

Anna Owsley, Mill Valley News editor-in-chief

In the midst of a Science Olympiad banquet, a brief introduction is made to open an unexpected duo’s performance. The voices of senior Sydney Clarkin and science teacher and Science Olympiad coach Chad Brown harmonize with the gentle strum of his guitar, “I’m still waiting on June… I’m always waiting on June. No more waiting on June.” Clarkin shares her voice in front of an audience for the first time in her life surrounded by teammates and with her coach by her side. When the final line of the song comes to a close, the two performers are met with cheers of approval from the awestruck crowd.

This performance of the song “Waiting on June” at the banquet illustrates the connection Brown and Clarkin formed when they furthered their friendship by bonding through music, first as a hobby and eventually through his job as a music leader. While it is commonplace for jobs to produce skin-deep relationships, the case of these two musically talented science enthusiasts demonstrates how a job can also be the foundation on which lifelong friendships develop.

When Clarkin walked onto the Science Olympiad team as a freshman in a particularly distinctive class neither she nor Brown could have known how close they would grow by senior year.

“That whole freshman class was a very special class, they are all seniors now and they kind of made their presence known right away,” Brown said. “They were very outgoing and they were helpful and kind and just the best people. I’ve become very close to that whole class, and Sydney [Clarkin] is one of the best.”

By Hunter Ristau
Looking at the music stand, physics teacher Chad Brown performs the “Resurrecting” in the church service.

After a conversation between Brown and Clarkin about music, Clarkin revealed her wish to someday perform song “Waiting on Juneand the two decided to experiment with singing the music together. Brown believes their first time performing was a success, considering he had no prior knowledge of her abilities.

“I had never heard anyone say she sang. I had never heard her even just singing on her own offhandedly, so I really didn’t think [her voice] would be anything great,” Brown said. “She ended up being phenomenal, and so that was a great moment for us.”

Weeks of rehearsing led to the duo’s successful performance at last year’s Science Olympiad banquet. Because of Brown’s part-time job singing at Grace United Methodist Church and ear for Clarkin’s talent, he was able to give Sydney the job opportunity of singing for a larger audience at his church.

By Katya Gillig

“We always need another female vocalist, and she has the perfect voice for it,” Brown said. “It’s the right style and it fits our church. It’s a contemporary service, so it is nice to have someone young in there.”

Clarkin feels her time spent performing with Brown has allowed for their most special moments to be made.

“All my favorite memories [with him] would be us singing together,” Clarkin said. “Especially the first time, because that was the first time I had ever sang by myself in front of anybody… it was just really special.”

According to Brown, Clarkin’s monthly participation singing at church also brought their families closer. From going out to lunch together to Clarkin’s father chaperoning with Brown at Relay for Life, the result of their connection through song and science was an even larger connection between numerous individuals.   

As a mutual friend of both Brown and Clarkin, Fraka witnessed how their music has supplemented Brown and Clarkin’s friendship.

“Their [singing is] another layer of something they can connect on,” Fraka said. “We are all friends because of Science Olympiad, but then if you have another thing in common that helps build the things you can talk about and adds to a friendship.”

A number of Brown’s students chose to pursue their scientific aspirations under Brown’s leadership in Science Olympiad, including Clarkin’s teammates seniors Liz Fraka and Aniston Cumbie. Fraka attributes their close relationship with Brown to their increased involvement on the team.

“Sydney, Aniston and I, our [Science Olympiad] leadership team, all help out Chad Brown, so we spend lots of time with him,” Fraka said. “We help him with a bunch of tasks, and through that we have formed a friendship.”

However, for Clarkin, it was not merely her science classes, Science Olympiad or music that fostered her growing connection with Brown. It was also their distinctive personalities and interests that continued to drive their friendship.

By Hunter Ristau
Looking down at the sheet music, senior Sydney Clarkin performs the song “Awake My Soul.”

“We have a common sense of humor, which is good and bad, like ridiculous puns and bad dad jokes…. We have music in common, and a common love of science,” Brown said. “She is more on the biology and anatomy side and [I’m] more on the physical science side.”

Years of bonding through their shared love of science and music has resulted in a mutual appreciation for each other’s friendship. As a teacher, Brown is surrounded by the chaos of high school life, so he is thankful for Clarkin’s demeanor.

“Sydney is very down to earth in a world of very reactionary and extreme people. It’s nice that Sydney is always very constant,” Brown said. “She has her moments like anyone else but she is a very steady influence, so I appreciate that about her.”

Clarkin’s decision to do Science Olympiad preceded not only an eventual friendship and State Championship, but also gave her a role model and mentor.

“Being my coach, I definitely look up to [Brown]. He has taught me a lot through music,” Clarkin said. “He was the one who encouraged me to start singing on my own, so I am really appreciative of all his help in that part of my life.”

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