Sofia stands in the kitchen with her family, waiting for 5:00 p.m. to hit. She braces herself for what will be one of the most wildly exciting or bitterly disappointing moments in her 17 years of life. Each night for weeks, Sofia has lost sleep due to the anticipation of whether she’ll be accepted to her dream college. Each morning as she and her mother have driven to the gym, they’ve discussed the paradox of both expecting miracles but also being humble enough to embrace whatever the Lord’s will may be.
Sofia’s parents, Reina and Jim, and her older brother Danny pace around the room, eyeing the laptop on the counter. Then 5:00 p.m. arrives, and Sofia refreshes the web page and an announcement fills the screen. The family watches as Sofia’s face instantly goes from one of tearful, almost painful anticipation to jaw-dropping disbelief.
She’s in. Sofia Detjen of Draper, Utah, has been accepted to Harvard University.
Mother and daughter turn to each other and erupt in repeated exclamations of “Oh, my gosh!” and “What!?” as father and brother cheer.
But Sofia’s acceptance to Harvard is only the beginning. A few days later she is also accepted as a drummer to the prestigious Berklee College of Music, a school that’s produced more Grammy Award–winning musicians than any other college. And the best part? Sofia is chosen as one of eight students worldwide to be admitted to the highly selective Harvard/Berklee Dual Degree program: over the course of five years, she’ll earn a bachelor’s degree at Harvard and a master’s in music at Berklee. To top it all off, Berklee awards Sofia a full-tuition scholarship, her acceptance letter recognizing her as a promising national-caliber musician with “a future filled with limitless potential.” The scholarship is worth approximately $188,000.
But that moment of joy in the kitchen was special not only because of how hard Sofia worked to excel in both music and academics, but because of what the news means to her spiritually.
“While working on college applications, I engaged with the Lord and focused on building a partnership with Him,” Sofia says. “My mindset was, ‘I can’t do this alone.’ I needed to be working alongside the Lord. I knew if I put Him first, everything else would fall into place.”
In an instant, the stress of deadlines, auditions, and applications was replaced with a sense of peace that this is God’s plan for her—a plan that Reina, like any loving mother, is watching unfold from right by her daughter’s side.
“That day in the kitchen was pure joy, pure relief, and pure gratitude,” Reina says. “When we were waiting to hear back from colleges, Sofia and I talked daily about that struggle of knowing she’s done everything she could, and now it’s in the hands of the Lord. We were trying to be humble and submit to Heavenly Father’s will but also expect a miracle. . . . [We focused on] having faith that whatever happens is what’s supposed to happen.”
This fall, Sofia will arrive at Harvard with not only her sharp intellect and musical gifts; she’ll also bring a relationship with the Savior and her Heavenly Father that she’s carefully cultivated through the Young Women program, worship at church, and personal study. And Sofia believes those divine relationships with her Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ will help her make more of her future than she could ever accomplish on her own.
Begging for a Drum Set
At 17, Sofia holds a whopping 14 DownBeat Music Awards (the equivalent of a Grammy Award at college and secondary levels) and 12 Best of State awards for recordings with the bands she’s been in. She’s also worked with many accomplished musicians, including scores of Grammy-winning jazz artists and members of well-known bands like Journey, The Killers, Tower of Power, the Saturday Night Live Band, AC/DC, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, the Blues Brothers, and Genesis—not a list of accomplishments her parents expected when their four-year-old wouldn’t stop begging for a drum set.
Years ago, the Detjen family was visiting a neighbor who was a professional musician, and he let four-year-old Sofia bang on his drum set for fun. Over the course of the next year, Sofia relentlessly asked her parents for a drum set for her fifth birthday. So Reina and Jim purchased a $50 drum set and signed her up for lessons, figuring that if Sofia was going to be making noise, she may as well start off on the right foot.
“Sofia has two older brothers, and I thought, ‘My little girl will probably play the violin and take dance lessons,’” Reina says. “And I was completely wrong—and that’s just fine. She was the cutest thing. And she was just fearless and always has been since.”
The first song Sofia learned to play was “Sparks Fly” by Taylor Swift, who to this day remains one of Sofia’s greatest musical inspirations. By the time she was 11, Sofia had outgrown her first teacher, who suggested it was time for her to seek more professional training. So she began taking lessons from Jay Lawrence, who is a drummer in the music department at Brigham Young University and has recorded music for movies, including The Sandlot, 101 Dalmatians, and Home Alone 3.
“She came young, but she had that ambition that she still has and a high work ethic,” Jay says. He notes that Sofia’s confidence grew to the point that she believed she could accomplish anything, even in the male-dominated field of drumming. “She will throw herself into something, and as a result accomplish great things that the people who aren’t committing themselves 100 percent will never accomplish. . . . Every time she plays, she makes me proud.”
Jay wasn’t the only one to take note of Sofia’s growing confidence. Rick Sunderlage, a family friend who is currently the bishop in Sofia’s ward, remembers asking Sofia at church when she was about 11 years old how drumming was going.
“She told me it was going well, and then—and I was just teasing—I said, ‘Hey, if you want to really impress me, you should learn “Tom Sawyer” by Rush,’ which is known to be one of the hardest songs to play [on drums],” he says. Although Rick was just teasing, a few months later Sofia invited him to her drum recital, where she would be playing none other than the very song Rick had suggested.
“I was like, ‘You’re kidding! You’re seriously playing that?’ We went, and that was the first time I saw her play. She was incredible,” he recalls.
But even with all those signs of potential, Sofia had some difficult decisions to make in high school—and if it weren’t for her belief in a divine plan, she may have given up her musical pursuits altogether.
When Sofia reached her sophomore and junior years of high school, she watched many of her friends drop extracurricular activities to focus on academics and prepare for college. Sofia wondered if she should do the same.
“There were a lot of times that I would rather focus on academics. I love reading, I love studying—I’m someone who will admit that homework is kind of enjoyable for me,” Sofia says. “But then again and again I would receive a spiritual confirmation to keep playing.”
Those confirmations have come to Sofia during moments like playing with Steve Smith from Journey and then chatting with him as if they were colleagues, not student and teacher. Or discussing practice routines with the drummer from Big Bad VooDoo Daddy. Or experimenting with improvisational jazz during a workshop with multi-Grammy winner Jeff Coffin from the Dave Matthews Band.
“After interacting with these musicians, I can’t wait to go home, go into my basement, and just shred—just totally practice,” Sofia says. “I truly feel like this is something I’ve been given. It’s so organic for me that it’s something I feel I have to do.”
So on she played. Through high school, she was the first female lead drummer for Caleb Chapman’s Crescent Super Band, a 20-piece jazz orchestra based in Utah that’s been recognized as the world’s best youth jazz ensemble. In 2023, the band became the only group in history to win three DownBeat Music Awards in the Large Jazz Ensemble, Latin Group, and Pop/Rock/Blues Group categories. And Sofia will travel to France, Italy, and the Netherlands with the band this summer. On their tour, they’ll headline at three of the world’s top jazz festivals. All of those performances mean hours and hours spent behind her drums, but it seems Sofia can’t get enough.
“It’s a great stress reliever, hitting the drums,” Sofia jokes. “But, you know, I really love everything about drumming.”
Amid all of the music, Sofia hasn’t slowed down on her academic pursuits. She’s ranked number one in her high school class of nearly 800 students. She founded the Citizen Diplomacy Club at her high school and was president of the Civil Discourse Club. She was also a youth diplomat for the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy and served on the city of Draper’s youth council. But even with her impressive résumé, Sofia may never have considered reaching for the Ivy League if it weren’t for the example of her oldest brother, Elliott.
In the Detjen household, attending college was a given, but there was no expectation of an Ivy League education for the three children. In fact, when Elliott told his parents he wanted to visit Yale and Harvard the summer before his senior year, Reina was unsure.
“When we took Elliott to visit those campuses, . . . I couldn’t believe we were even going. Like, ‘Who do we think we are, going to visit these Ivy League schools?’” Reina remembers. But she never wanted to limit her children and supported them all the way. When Elliott was accepted to Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, the whole family was amazed—and Sofia was inspired. If Elliott could do it, why couldn’t she?
“My junior year was when I told myself ‘no regrets’ and committed completely to trying to get into Harvard,” Sofia says. She fully immersed herself in her studies and music and worked on her application for months, wanting to perfect every word. The inspiration for one of her required essays came while thinking about her other brother, Danny, who is enrolled at the United States Air Force Academy and a swimmer in their NCAA Division I program. His example as an older brother who accomplished so much at the highest levels in his sport and academics while also having unwavering faith in the Lord made him someone Sofia has always looked up to, and she wrote about what she learned playing LEGO bricks with him as kids. Her heartfelt words paid off.
Strengthened by Sisterhood
Even with her nearly daily band rehearsals and heavy homework load, Sofia still enjoys being a normal high school student—hanging out with friends, attending football games, and going to school dances. With everything on her plate, one might assume she lacked time to be involved in her ward’s Young Women group. But that’s not the case—Sofia says the gospel and participation in church is “everything.”
“I make Young Women’s a priority every week, even when it’s not reasonable. I love the weekly activities,” Sofia says. “Something else that’s been really helpful for me is I received my patriarchal blessing when I was pretty young; I was 13 or 14. Whether I’m taking the ACT or stressing out over something going on with friends, my patriarchal blessing really has been such a light in my life. I love having this personalized message and feeling seen by our Father in Heaven.”
And while church participation has blessed Sofia, she, in turn, has been a blessing to others in her ward.
“She’s the common glue with the young women,” Bishop Rick Sunderlage says. “As busy as she is, she still finds time to search out those who are struggling. She’s been so accomplished in different areas that I think it would be easy to say, ‘I’m just too busy. I’ll come to church, but I’m not going to go do stuff during the week; I just don’t have time.’ But she does.”
“Building a sisterhood has meant so much to me and my growth and my spirit,” Sofia says. At the heart of that sisterhood is Sofia’s best friend, Aubriel Vine. The two met when they were 12 years old and have supported each other in spiritual and academic pursuits ever since.
“Having her as a friend has made all the difference for me,” Aubriel says. “She’s the reason that I would come to church or the reason that I [would] go to school. Having her is a blessing from Heavenly Father; He knew she was the person I needed.”
The Future Awaits
Sofia will take private music lessons at Berklee while she attends Harvard for her bachelor’s degree. Once her undergraduate degree is complete, she’ll earn a master’s degree from Berklee. But before that, she plans on pausing her education to serve a mission—a dream that has been fueled, at least in part, by time spent around the campfire with her Young Women group.
“Girls’ camp has always been amazing—testimony meeting, how could you not cry when you’re there? You feel so inspired. It’s similar to how I feel after playing with a guest artist in the music realm—I’m just on fire. Coming back from camp, I feel ready to go serve a mission right away!” Sofia says.
When her mission and education are complete, Sofia looks forward to using her drumming to make a difference in the world.
“I would love to tour the world with a sold-out stadium show with someone like Taylor Swift,” Sofia says. “But in the long term, I want to do something regarding diplomacy and music. I really want to do something where I combine those two passions of mine and change the world for the better. I want to be a part of something that will bring more peace into the world and more happiness.”
As Sofia sets off, her friends and family will be eagerly cheering her on.
“Sofia is one that does and will always realize her full potential because she believes she can do something,” her teacher, Jay, says. “She is going to be a leading voice in the next generation of music.”
Bishop Sunderlage adds that Sofia’s faith is at the heart of her success.
“Out of all the stuff that she’s done—academics, music, government, friends, whatever it is—I think what’s most impressive about her is her humility and reliance on Heavenly Father. It’d be easy at her age to feel like she’s done it all on her own, like she’s cracked the code. But she still recognizes that it’s not her,” he says.
Sofia’s father, Jim, has felt many emotions since his daughter’s acceptance to Harvard: pride, relief, and a twinge of sadness that his little girl is growing up and moving away. But as much as he’d like to hold on to her forever, he knows she has dreams to follow.
“Every day I am inspired by Sofia,” Jim says. “She doesn’t let hurdles and failures pull her down; every time she falls, she gets back up with even more grit and perseverance to push forward, even when it feels impossible. She keeps chasing her dreams until they become her reality, fueled by her profound faith in the Lord, integrity, work ethic, commitment, drive, and authenticity.”
Before she flies out to Boston in the fall, Sofia is squeezing in one more trip to her ward’s Young Women camp, this time as a youth leader. After that, she’ll leave the familiar world of her childhood for the opportunities laid out before her. But some of her favorite scriptures will be coming along for the ride: “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. . . . Ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you” (John 14:18, 20).
“I love these scriptures so much,” Sofia says. “I really feel that I can be one with the Father, and He can be with me, and we can work together.”
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