Clarke: Many times, we kick off these spotlights by asking what people have done since their time at Clarke, but your story at Clarke continued after graduation.
Julie: Yes! I have been blessed in my 15 years of working at Clarke. So far, I have been a part of bringing in a couple record breaking classes, creating longstanding traditions like the Reindeer Raffle and Staff Assembly Holiday Potluck, collaborating on streamlining our onboarding process for new students, and I became the Vice President for Enrollment Management in August of 2022. All that said, my favorite professional achievement was being awarded the Rose O’Toole Award in 2021. This award is voted on by staff, and truly made me feel like my work and passion was reaching across campus.
Outside of Clarke, I’m currently living a beautifully chaotic life with my Clarke sweetheart, and husband, Grant Cirks ’06 and our four children. Between voice lessons, practices, games, and musicals, it is hard to find the time for ‘extras’ beyond family and work. When I am not running kids or errands, you’ll find me enjoying the outdoors, a good book, or a cozy coffee shop with friends.
Clarke: I love the idea of looking at life as “beautifully chaotic.” How do you keep things in perspective when life feels challenging?
Julie: Personally, I am one year away from earning the title of ‘Survivor’ for winning the battle against breast cancer. I was diagnosed with aggressive stage III cancer in November of 2018, about one week after learning I was pregnant with our now 4-year-old son, Ryan. I went through 16 rounds of chemo during my second and third trimesters, completed eight weeks of radiation directly after Ryan was born, and have had a total of five surgeries in the past four years. I will be five years cancer free on July 10, 2024, and I cannot wait to celebrate!
When you think it all may fade away, you hold on tighter. I have learned, through the last few years especially, that life is not going to play out how you have it planned in your head. You will get derailed. You must focus on the things that are really important to you, like giving my children a positive and fulfilling childhood, and growing old with Grant.
When I am challenged or stressed, I call on my time management and problem-solving skills I learned as a student at Clarke. I consider issues through the lens of others and break apart complex issues into their parts. In both my career and personal life, I also leverage the power of prayer and loosen my need to control everything; things I learned in Spirituality with Sr. Paulette and Psychology with Tim Boffeli.
Clarke: Would you say that your faith has been a large part of your journey?
Julie: I truly feel a deep connection with the BVMs and their core values. I am currently going through the discernment process to become a BVM associate. Living simply, loving others, and trying to make an impact in your circle of influence is important. We need these things to make a collaborative community that supports each other and those who enter our lives in need.
My faith also plays a role in my work as I strive to keep the spirit of Mary Frances Clarke alive. She was a powerful motivator and had such a future-focused mentality. I try to share this with my team in our day-to-day work. Being at a small university during a pandemic brought challenges; however, we found ways to masterfully pivot. While many schools saw a decline in new enrollment, we saw an increase. We worked together, thought outside the box, and we were not afraid to scrap an idea that wasn’t working and try something new. Teamwork really does make the dream work!
Clarke: What are some of your favorite memories of Clarke, and what are some of your hopes for our future?
Julie: I have so many memories, it is hard to choose. I soaked in every word of Judy Biggin’s ’66 world history classes – constantly asking for the titles of the books she used to get the ‘dish’ on all the royals throughout history! I enjoyed my time with my roommates, staked out at night on the fourth floor of Mary Fran so one of them could write an article about the truth behind its possible haunting. I thrived in the packed gym as I cheered for Grant and the men’s basketball team as they climbed to the top of their conference. However, my favorite Clarke memory is hugging Sr. Catherine on the commencement stage and her saying congratulations on my new job in admissions.
As for the future, I think it is important to acknowledge that Clarke is ever evolving, as Mary Frances Clarke wished. The times and demographics are changing at lightning speed right now. While Clarke has let in men, gone from a “college” to a “university,” changed our mascot, and recently shifted to having more students from outside the Midwest and the USA, Clarke is still, at its core, a place for supportive learning. A place for growth and exploration. A place to make mistakes and try again. A place where students have the freedom of choice, are supported through the charity of love, are given a versatile education, and are taught to fight for justice in their communities. I encourage those who wish Clarke was the same as it was ‘when I went there’ to consider how the world has changed since that time. And to remember, our charge is to stay progressive with the times.
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Julie! Do you know a member of the Clarke alumni community we should highlight? Submit your nominations for a future Alumni Spotlight by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.