Captivated by the performances of Assistant Professor of Music Sonja Kraus, DMA, at an international music festival, Rodriguez envisioned herself learning alongside the internationally acclaimed cellist, teacher and music scholar.  

"When I saw her perform, I was blown away by her powerful sound projection, musicality, stage presence and confidence," said Rodriguez, who will earn her MFA degree in May.

Kraus and Rodriguez met at Habana Clásica Festival, a music festival held in Havana, Cuba – Rodriguez’s home city – that brings together world-renowned musical artists from around the globe. Rodriguez attended concerts at the festival where Kraus performed and also participated in one of her masterclasses. From that pivotal moment forward, Rodriguez’s journey through the USD College of Fine Arts unfolded.  

"Dr. Kraus was the main reason I decided to come to USD," said Rodriguez. "After I played in the masterclass, she talked about being the cello professor at USD and asked if I was interested in pursuing a master’s degree with her."  

Once arriving at USD from Cuba, Rodriguez and Kraus’s relationship only grew. Alongside Kraus, Rodriguez has not only developed leadership skills as a solo performer but has also learned how to be a great chamber musician prepared to play in any ensemble.  

"Meeting and being able to study with Dr. Kraus has changed my life completely for the better," said Rodriguez. "I have grown and learned so much as a musician and as a person. Her professionalism, passion and love for teaching her students, incredible knowledge, kindness and positive attitude toward every person and situation has had a tremendous impact on me."   

Leaving her home country and family to pursue her education in the U.S. and adapting to a completely different environment has been far from easy for Rodriguez. However, through the "unconditional help and support" she’s received from her mentor and the cello studio, it’s a challenge she’s been able to handle.  

"Thanks to Dr. Kraus, I feel more confident, prepared and capable of facing any challenge in life with the best possible attitude," said Rodriguez. "She has always been there for me since the beginning of our relationship, and I’ll be forever grateful. She is not only my professor, but she has also become my family."  

Concluding her cello journey at USD, Rodriguez performed her graduation recital at the National Music Museum on April 14, and said it was a "surreal experience" to play one of the cellos donated to the museum by Ken Cancelosi.

"This experience was something I would have never imagined and is another major reason why I’m so grateful to have met Dr. Kraus," said Rodriguez. "She has built an amazing cello studio family, and she makes a difference everywhere she goes.  

"I’m extremely grateful to Dr. Kraus, Ken Cancelosi, Arian Sheets, Darryl Martin, Michael Suing, Dwight Vaught, Sarah Cohen and all the members of the NMM for this wonderful opportunity and for making my graduation recital one of the most memorable moments of my life," she continued.

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