PEMBROKE — Julia Merritt’s passion for music was undeniable.
Beyond her love for the arts, however, it was her zest for life that impacted those she encountered as a junior music education major at UNC Pembroke. She possessed a gentle soul and a willingness to help others.
Her musical journey had only just begun when she was tragically killed in an automobile accident in August. She was 20 years old. Recently, the Department of Music assembled virtually to pay tribute to Merritt with an emotional recital.
“In the UNCP music community, Julia meant so much to so many people as a student, as a colleague, as a friend and as a musician,” said Dr. Aaron Vandermeer, music professor and department chair.
“Julia had a bright spirit and a warm smile, and even though she’s left us, it’s important to the UNCP music community to mourn her loss and celebrate her life.”
Though restrictions related to COVID-19 thwarted a traditional concert, the university’s communication department produced a touching video montage of performances recorded on the Moore Hall stage, a living room, a garage and individually edited from a dozen locations. The recital ends with a photo slide show of Merritt with classmates, friends and family, and a recording of her performance with the Pembroke Singers at the 2019 Holiday Extravaganza.
Born in Fairbanks Alaska, Merrit grew up in a military family. Her father, Douglas Merritt, served as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. She spent her formative years in Colorado Springs, Colorado. After completing high school in Italy, where her father was stationed, she enrolled at UNCP where she excelled as a vocalist and tubist. She was a member of the Sigma Alpha Iota music fraternity and spent two years as co-director of the Children’s Choir at Laurinburg Presbyterian Church.
“She was one of those people who could find the good in anyone,” said UNCP junior Alexis Baril, a close friend and roommate. “She and I would bond by talking and cracking jokes. We became really close because we shared a similar situation. Her mom passed away a month before my mother died.”
Merritt not only had a love for music, but she also shared a love for animals. She talked about one day becoming a veterinarian, in addition to a career as a music educator.
“She wanted to be in some sort of nurturing role,” Baril said. “She loved taking care of others no matter whether it was animals or youth.”
The UNCP Music Department has established a scholarship in her name which will be awarded to a deserving music student each year. To donate to the Julia Merritt Memorial Scholarship, visit uncp.edu/give/Julia.