Healing Hands

Senior Speaks About Dedication to Community, Future Career in Neuroscience


Photo by Rachael Hall

Showing off her commitment to the University of California at Los Angeles, senior Claire O’Keefe smiles proudly. O’Keefe plans to major in neuroscience on a pre-med track and become a psychiatrist or neurologist. “For my future vocation, I aspire to be a doctor of some sort that can help save and impact lives,” O’Keefe said. “Any specialty of doctor where I can save lives or the quality of life for people is rewarding.”

Ally JohnPress, Reporter

She’s got it all. From being the Varsity Debate captain to working with Music Eunited and being a juror at the municipal teen court, senior Claire O’Keefe is not short of passion and diligence for her community. In addition to enjoying service work, O’Keefe likes to play the violin, thrift downtown, watch sunsets and blast music in the car while driving. 

O’Keefe’s engagement in the teen municipal court since her freshman year as well as her participation in Music Eunited guided her toward her future career. At first, she wanted to be a lawyer, and could gain experience helping teenagers in court. She and others receive cases of real teenagers and are jurors for their trials. 

“Initially, wanting to pursue a career in law, I thought that participating in a criminal justice service program would teach me about the process,” O’Keefe said. “I joined [the teen municipal court] because I wanted to see what it was like being a part of the judicial system and in a trial setting, since I was wanting to be a lawyer. My favorite parts were being able to have good discussions with the other jurors when deciding on a sentence because it was interesting hearing every person’s different perspectives. Additionally, I liked the idea of being able to curtail a kid from a bad path and give them a second chance. At the court, I feel empowered and proud to be helping serve my community.” 

However, O’Keefe now wishes to pursue a career in the medical field, specializing in neuroscience, more specifically, psychiatry, after her experience with Music Eunited. She tutors kids in reading, writing and math for a couple hours every Sunday. 

“The more I went through my schooling, the more I fell in love with math and science,” O’Keefe said. “I began to explore other career options since I was so young and knew that I didn’t need to make my decision anytime soon. I began tutoring with Music Eunited because I loved working with children, and working with the kids at Music Eunited [led me to be] very intrigued with cognitive disorders and cognitive behavior. With all of this, becoming a doctor seemed to be the natural choice.”

Participating in a Dell Medical camp as well as completing an online Harvard neuroscience course the past few years solidified her interest in neuroscience and the overall medical field, according to O’Keefe. She has also been a part of HOSA since her sophomore year and participates in the Health Minute Committee where students make segments on the Wolfcast discussing medical-related topics. Due to COVID-19, O’Keefe has been unable to get a medical internship, however, she said she hopes to soon. 

“The medical camp was at the Dell Children’s Hospital for a week long, and [it] really showed me the ins and outs of being a doctor [and] really solidified my choice for medicine and got me excited for working in a hospital,” O’Keefe said. “Since then, I wanted an internship or any other experience in medicine, [but] since COVID-19 restricted in person opportunities, I enrolled in an online HarvardX neuroscience course that took me about a month to complete. It taught me all the rudimentary topics in neuroscience and got me more interested in my field.”

Pursuing a career in the medical field, O’Keefe said she is inspired by the accomplishments of women in STEM like Elizabeth Blackwell. 

“I would say that one of my main inspirations is Elizabeth Blackwell,” O’Keefe said. “She played a large role in paving the way for women in STEM, being the first woman granted a Medical Degree. In a male-dominated career sector like STEM, it can be scary to be a woman and somewhat discouraging. Seeing strong women that started the revolution of advocating for themselves and their talents to be recognized and utilized in medicine is very inspiring.”

Although O’Keefe no longer seeks a career in law, the experience of being a member of teen municipal court as well as being the Varsity Debate captain and Speech and Debate Organization President has proved worthwhile.

“I’ve been involved in debate since freshman year [and] joined the team initially because I was wanting to be a lawyer,” O’Keefe said. “Now, however, I am pursuing a career in medicine. Though those are very different paths, [by] being the Varsity Debate captain and Speech and Debate Organization President, I have strengthened my communication skills, my confidence in public speaking and my ability to create logical arguments on the spot. I have enjoyed debating the past four years and know that it will help me be a well spoken doctor and woman.”

O’Keefe is also involved with multiple aspects of school, as she is a part of the National Honor Society as well as the science, math, English and social studies honor societies. She was also a member of Key Club from her freshman to junior year. Other academic achievements O’Keefe has received is National Merit Commended Scholar and an AP Scholar with Distinction.

“My main accomplishment, overall, is being able to finish school strong despite the pandemic,” O’Keefe said. “With all of the obstacles that COVID-19 threw at us this year, I am proud I was able to persist and maintain good grades until the end of [my] high school journey. Additionally, I am proud of being awarded National Merit Commended Scholar and an AP Scholar with Distinction because of all of the strenuous hours that I put in to win those awards. All of my officer positions, too, I am thankful for being awarded [them] and proud of myself for running those positions well.”

Following graduation, O’Keefe plans to attend the University of California at Los Angeles and major in neuroscience.

“[I am] attending UCLA in the fall, [and] I am going to start my journey towards becoming a doctor,” O’Keefe said. “As of right now, I am majoring in neuroscience on a pre-med track to become a psychiatrist or neurologist; however, that is susceptible to change because I am young and may change my mind later. For my future vocation, I aspire to be a doctor of some sort that can help save and impact lives. Any specialty of doctor where I can save lives or the quality of life for people is rewarding.”