A cool rain lightly sifted over Newcastle Street in downtown Brunswick, but the sugary warmth of Pam Pam’s Cupcakes offered a welcome refuge from the elements.

Seated across from me, Zhane Waye is every bit the sophisticated college student though she looks a bit different from the 14-year-old middle schooler I met more than six years ago.

Well, except her eyes — those are exactly the same. Bright, eager, and obviously brilliant, they still flash with excitement as she talks about the love of her life — music. Back when we first met, I was — as I still am — a writer for The Brunswick News and Zhane was a pre-teen with a passion for classical music. In my first interview with her, she talked about how she fell in love with the violin after an exhibition at St. Simons Elementary School.

“A group donated some money for students there to start learning how to play the violin. So that’s how I started,” she recalls. “From there, I went to Needwood Middle and played there all three years.”

A few years later, Zhane auditioned for the Golden Isles Youth Symphony (now the Golden Isles Youth Orchestra). With her dedication and commitment, she — unsurprisingly — aced it and was added to the group. The next few years were a flurry of concerts and classes, workshops and retreats.

But even while spending a considerable amount of time honing her craft, she also worked diligently in the classroom. Her teachers were impressed by how well Zhane managed her hectic schedule. One even nominated her for the People to People Leadership Ambassador Program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. She continued her hard work through high school, attending Frederica Academy on St. Simons Island.

That dedication paid off when she started looking at colleges. Zhane was able to narrow her choices down to two prestigious schools.

“It was between Bard College in Upstate New York and Wake Forrest. I had the opportunity to visit Bard the spring break of my junior year,” Zhane says. “Then, I visited Wake in the fall of my senior year. So I was able to see both campuses and get a feel for them.”

That didn’t make the decision any easier though, as she felt right at home in both places. Bard College, a private liberal arts school located in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, really struck a chord with her.

“I loved, loved, loved Bard. I am in love with New York so it was just great,” she recalls wistfully. “But I met with the violin professor at Wake one-on-one. She is just incredible and even back then I could see that I could potentially work very well with her for the next four years of my academic and violin careers.”

That deep connection with the teacher, Dr. Jacqueline Carrasco, sealed the deal and before long, Zhane was packing her bags for Winston-Salem. She was settling in to life away from home when the world was besieged by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I was bummed out that freshman year was cut short due to Covid. But when I returned in the fall, it still felt like home,” she says.

Zhane was thrilled to reconnect with her teachers and fellow students. She’s also looking forward to getting back on the path to her future, which she feels lies in both the musical and scientific realms.

“I am majoring in music and the liberal arts. I’m minoring in neuroscience. It will definitely be more on the research side. Hopefully, after undergrad I can go to graduate school and work in a lab, researching memory specifically as it relates to music,” she says.

While it is undoubtedly a deep and fascinating field with plenty of room for learning and growth, Zhane also has a personal reason for her interest in the topic.

“I actually have awful memory,” she says with a laugh. “But music brings on all of these different skills that sharpen your cognition and memory is one of them. I definitely give my violin all the credit because otherwise I have a lot of trouble memorizing things.”