Music grad earns degree by degrees

Debora Van Brenk // Western News

Dawn McIntosh, now a Don Wright Faculty of Music alumna, graduated Monday on the Dean’s list after taking courses part-time for 15 years while her sons were in high school and university.

Editor’s Note: Follow along every day as 19 distinguished individuals receive honorary degrees and the academic accomplishments of hundreds of students are celebrated as Western hosts its 313th Convocation.

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By Debora Van Brenk

When Dawn McIntosh auditioned for a place in the Don Wright Faculty of Music 15 years ago, she was 47 and her two sons were teenagers in high school. When she crossed the stage during Convocation on Monday, the numbers rolled again. The McIntosh family of four now includes three proud alumni, with five Western degrees among them.

A tribute to her dogged determination, McIntosh graduated on the Dean’s List with a BMus in Composition.

She was an accomplished pianist, teaching 22 students each week in her home studio and leading the church band, when she applied to Western’s Don Wright Faculty of Music in 2004.

“I decided I wanted to broaden my scope in music, so I thought, ‘What the heck? I’ll prepare for an audition, give it my best shot and hope I get in.’ The rest is history.”

Each year, except for 18 months off for family milestone events, she completed two or three courses. She discovered her niche in Music Composition and dove deep into its possibilities.

“I’ve always felt the need to do something creative. I like the idea of creating something out of nothing.”

While she pursued her degree a few courses at a time, her sons Chris and Trevor graduated from high school and then earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in civil engineering and science.

At one point, she was joined by both sons in attending Western.

“My husband had a Western T-shirt with a big credit card across it that said, ‘Bank of Dad,’ ” McIntosh said.

In addition to music classes, she studied Greek and Roman history, Latin, German and art history.

She already has a place for her diploma – above the piano that started her journey.

“I felt like was a privilege to go to Western. All the professors I had were wonderful.” She offered specific praise to Music’s undergraduate academic counsellor, Diane Mills, “who always helped us somehow keep it all together.”

She met older and younger students and formed lasting friendships.

“It was really a life-changing experience. I’m definitely not the same person I was when I went in.”

Although graduating gives her time to travel with her now-retired husband Grant, not studying will also take some getting used to.

“It was a big journey for a large part of my life and it made me realize I was strong enough to carry it through. I guess I was stronger than I thought I was at the beginning.”