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Stage scene from The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Project

I must admit, being asked 'What's your major?' is one of the most nerve-racking questions thrown at college students, at least for me. The simple question leads to a whirlwind of assumptions and fears for our future careers. I recently got some clarity after writing this article on an inspiring Adelphi alum who is the epitome of someone who hasn't been pigeonholed by her major.

Sarafina Bush ’12 took advantage of college being a time to experiment. Her home department was French and she minored in dance. She was in the Honors College and was a tutor in the Learning and Writing Centers. However, in her college career, she also worked on several theater productions. As a child, Bush had designed costumes for her cats. At Adelphi, she rediscovered her passion for costume design. Thanks to her determination and talent, and the skills she gained in classes and extracurricular activities, Bush is currently finding success in this exciting and competitive field. She’s assisted with the design for productions including Dear Evan Hansen and Jagged Little Pill and now Broadway’s MJ the Musical. This year, she landed her first role as costume designer for Pass Over, which played off-Broadway at the Lincoln Center Theater from August 4 to October 21.

Due to her busy schedule, Bush was not available for an interview. Although I was unable to speak to her personally, I had the opportunity to speak to colleagues, friends and former educators of the designer.

Polina Minchuck Macklin ’12, a close friend, said Bush had the opportunity to take a couple of classes in the Department of Theatre thanks to her dance minor. It was in an Introduction to Costume Design class where Bush’s spark for designing emerged. “It didn’t magically happen,” Macklin said. “She was interning throughout her college career, taking every opportunity she could get; she worked really hard.”

“Sarafina, like all good designers, has always shown a combination of intellectual curiosity and immense talent,” said Sean Sullivan, associate professor of theater, who taught Bush in that Introduction to Costume Design class, where, he said, Bush “displayed talent and interest in the area, so we created opportunities for her to design costumes for several Department of Theatre productions. On these productions, she showcased her talent, hard work, dedication to her craft and a gift for collaborating with other designers and performers as well.”

From then on, the young designer volunteered for any shows she could get her hands on. Working backstage with Macklin and even onstage with Marlee Koenigsberg ’11, Bush was able to get a taste of the theater through multiple outlets. She inspired and helped the crews.

Koenigsberg recalled, “I remember one day during our tech rehearsal, Bush led a physical warm-up for the actors. Never had I been—and have not been since!—in a rehearsal room where the costume designer was also qualified to lead a physical warm-up for the ensemble. I remember thinking, ‘How cool!’ and in that moment, Sarafina exemplified that, in the arts, all disciplines inform our craft.”

Matthew Lavery, director of the Learning and Writing Centers, said, “Sarafina was the first in our office to demonstrate the unique value of problem-solving in the arts for problems in other fields. ‘Out-of-the-box thinking’ has become a cliché, but Sarafina’s proficiency in conceptualizing procedural and pedagogical challenges through material, physical analogs opened the door to exactly those kinds of otherwise unimagined solutions,” explained Lavery, who also witnessed firsthand Bush searching through Savers thrift store for hours on end looking for specific pieces to fit whatever she was designing.

Nicole Rudolph, PhD, associate dean for student engagement, had the opportunity to oversee and teach Bush while she completed her senior thesis. “Not only was Sarafina’s work of the highest sophistication, but she read many of the sources of her thesis in their original French,” said Dr. Rudolph. “Mobilizing her proficiency with a foreign language, her knowledge of movement from her dance minor, her understanding of literary criticism and her studies of costume design, Sarafina proved to be the very archetype of the well-rounded liberal arts student, one who knows how to pull upon all of her education to contribute something new to the world.”

Macklin pridefully explained just how Bush continues to keep strong ties with her alma mater. Both Macklin and Bush are founders of The Bridge Affinity Group, an Adelphi alumnae-led initiative that was created to support a more inclusive global curriculum and initiate and maintain sustainable relationships with the arts industry.

The Adelphi community gave Bush the resources and chances she needed to take the leap to fully commit to her passion. Her story showed me that you don’t have to be defined by your major. College isn’t just about academics; it’s about what you make of the experience: the opportunities you take throughout your college years to push the envelope, find what you love and develop your skills. This, combined with hard work, dedication and determination, can be what sets you on your career path.

Todd Wilson
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