Claire Ryterski has been a standout member of the Columbia school system for years.
She’s heavily involved in drama and music programs and was even crowned homecoming queen in September.
She’s had a hectic but fun filled senior year at Columbia High School, and has many more adventures still in front of her.
Ryterski comes from a musical background. Members of the community may recognize her last name because her father is CHS music director Craig Ryterski. Her mother is also a music teacher.
“It was almost inevitable for me to be in music,” she said. “I grew up around music and was in band and choir in middle school.”
In seventh grade, she joined drama club with some of her friends, but didn’t really know exactly what the group entailed.
“I stepped in and auditioned and got a part,” she said. “I was super excited and ended up loving it.”
Ryterski recalls a moment in one of her very first shows where she saved someone from a line they had forgotten during a performance.
“I jumped in and helped, and it flowed so nicely,” she said.
“It felt like I was right where I needed to be. That was the start of it all for me.”
In sixth grade, Ryterski was diagnosed with alopecia, a medical condition that causes hair loss.
“I thought ‘this couldn’t happen to me,’” she said. “I treated it with all the medicines, but in junior year of high school when I had a bunch of hard classes, it got worse.”
By around this time last year, she made the decision to shave her head.
“It was just dragging me down,” she said. “When it was gone, it took some getting used to. You don’t think about things like rain and cold when you don’t have any hair.”
To Ryterski, it “wasn’t that big of a deal,” aside from some stares. She has a variety of wigs wears them often, but not always.
“I just brushed (the stares) off,” she said. “I would rather be known for all the other things I do and participate in than alopecia. I’ve tried to make that a point. It’s not what’s on the outside.”
Ryterski hasn’t let alopecia slow her down at all.
Recently, she acted in her final performance on the Columbia Middle School stage, “Radium Girls.”
“It’s historical fiction based off of a true story about girls working with a radium-based paint in factories,” she said. “It was kind of morbid, but it was a really cool play to be a part of.” Some of her favorite standout moments during her time at CHS include being crowned homecoming queen this past fall.
“It was one of my favorite homecomings, not just because of (being crowned), but because I was with so many people I care about,” she said. “It was one of my favorite moments of high school.”
Ryterski wants to study music therapy when she graduates from CHS in May and has plans to go to Western Illinois University in Macomb to study there.
“Illinois State and WIU are the only two Illinois schools with music therapy programs,” she said. “I received one of the highest academic scholarships from (WIU), so I’m pretty excited.”
Two weekends ago, she went to Macomb to audition for the program, and they were very impressed with her performance.
“Now they’re considering me for a music scholarship, too,” she said. “I’m really, really set on Western at this point.” Ryterski volunteered at the VA Medical Center at Jefferson Barracks a few summers ago and worked with the mental health clinic there.
“We worked around patients with PTSD and Alzheimer’s,” she said. “I saw the effects of music on these patients, and it’s just the coolest thing.”
She had originally considered becoming a nurse, but didn’t want to give up music.
“When I found out about music therapy, I thought it was the perfect combination,” she said. “It’s both helping people and doing what I love.”
Ryterski said she was blessed to grow up in Columbia because of its strong sense of community. “I know everyone in my grade, and a lot of people can’t say that about their high school,” she said. “Columbia has shaped me to be a part of a tight-knit community.”
As she wraps up her high school career, Ryterski still has things to look forward to at CHS.
Between the upcoming choir dinner and band concerts, the last few months of her senior year will be busy.
“I don’t know how I’m going to react to all the ‘lasts,’” she said. “But I’m looking forward to it.”