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Run, see, rise: ASU alumna reflects on undergraduate experience, how it led to career in music

portrait of ASU alum Grace Rolland

Grace Rolland received her bachelor's degree in theater and a minor in philosophy from ASU. Photo courtesy of Taylor Noel Photography.

February 17, 2021

When it comes to artistic endeavors, whether they be music, painting, dancing, writing or something else, many people give up before they get the chance to really try. This is not the case for Arizona State University alumna Grace Rolland.

Rolland graduated in 2011 with her bachelor’s degree in theater with a focus in directing from the School of Music, Dance and Theatre and a minor in philosophy from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies.

While at ASU she explored many topics of interest to her and found influence from her professors, such as Emeritus Professor of theater Bonnie Eckard, Associate Professor of religious studies Shahla Talebi, Associate Professor of stage directing Bill Partlan and Principal Lecturer for the Hugh Downs School Of Human Communication Jennifer Linde, who was also Rolland's thesis adviser for her senior honors thesis for Barrett, The Honors College.

“The fact that my list is predominantly female academics is not inconsequential,” said Rolland. “The presence these teachers had in my life spanned both personal and educational realms, and they each played a role in lifting me up just a little higher beyond where I could see myself.”

She pursued her minor in philosophy by splitting her time between ASU and a semester abroad at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, Turkey. 

“I really enjoyed reading philosophical texts and literature,” Rolland said. “I had taken two years of a philosophy-centered course called ‘Theory of Knowledge’ in my high school’s international baccalaureate diploma program, which I had enjoyed immensely. I wanted to continue my college education along these lines, and knew that taking courses to satisfy a philosophy minor would be both enjoyable and expansive.”

She had many interests alongside philosophy and theater, and spent time exploring those interests during her undergrad. Her minor in philosophy encouraged her to think more critically and to explore the way people think and perceive their world, which became critical to working within the arts.

“This discomfort we find in uncertainty and the stability you must have in order to work patiently through it, is what a career in the arts is much about,” Rolland said. “You never know how a project will turn out. You do the very best you can in the making, asking those questions along the way to discern the best choices you should make, and you never know how your work will be received. The process of making work as an artist runs very much along the grooves established in the mind of a philosopher.”

Through acknowledging the many parts of herself she wants to be, she found music called to her on a deep fundamental level. And although she enrolled at ASU hoping to be a film director and later moved into stage directing, she realized she could not practically do the jobs of both a director and musician. 

“It was part of my life and my family, and has always felt like home,” Rolland said. “It keeps me curious to learn and explore more, and I knew that as a profession it was how I wanted to move in my life.”

The summer after she graduated with her bachelor’s degree, her first band, called Run Boy Run, competed and won a big bluegrass band contest in Colorado, which led to their first guest spot a few months later on the radio show "A Prairie Home Companion." The recognition allowed her and the band to tour for about two and a half months straight the following summer.

“We toured regularly thereafter, a few weeks on the road, a week or two at home, and I kept up various creative projects at home in Mesa, (Arizona), in the meanwhile,” Rolland said. “We stopped touring full-time in early 2017, at which point I had already recorded my first solo record as Rising Sun Daughter and done a few shows.”

Rising Sun Daughter was a personal musical outlet for Rolland. She partnered with various local musicians and performed with them. Through these performances and a few recordings, she was able to experiment with her music until she was hitting the mark of what she wanted it to be.

Her record, “I See Jane,” was recorded with the help of a producer and friend in Tucson, Arizona, Ryan Alfred. 

“Making records and creating a live performance are two very different avenues for musical expression,” Rolland said. “It has felt truly magical, to experience the music come to life in both shapes, according to what we had hoped for.”

She advises those still in school to stay focused on their studies, the relationships they experience and forge with teachers, classmates and collaborators and to truly assess what they want in life.

“Take time to understand who you are, your strengths and gifts, your struggles and your priorities,” Rolland said. “Dive in when the moment is right because there will continue to be a stream of things you want to do, opportunities you hope to find and work to do. ‘Later’ is never the right time, so take advantage of life as you have it now.”

Rolland’s debut album can be found on her website, and you can follow her on Facebook and Instagram or visit her YouTube page.

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