Lara Plokhaar’s journey through university has taken a more circuitous path than she’d originally planned or hoped.
But what has remained constant throughout the past five years has been her intent to cross the stage at Convocation with Grainger at her side.
“From the first second I started at Western, I thought, he will be graduating with me, and he’ll be wearing a mini graduation cap and it will be great. I think that’s what kept me going some days,” Plokhaar said.
The dream will become reality on June 20, as Plokhaar is set to receive her BA with a specialization in music. And Grainger, the service dog she credits with helping her smooth out the roughest patches of university, will cross the stage at the same time.
Approximately 8,000 graduating students will convocate this spring and will join more than 330,000 others as Western alumni from more than 160 countries.
Plokhaar came to Western as an oboist, having been a member of virtually every musical ensemble in her high school.
The intensity of it all took a toll, and a friend of her mother suggested Plokhaar might benefit from a service dog to help ease her anxiety and depression. The first time she picked up the English springer spaniel puppy a little more than four years ago, “he fell asleep in my arms,” she recalled.
Plokhaar named him for Percy Grainger, an Australian-born composer of instrumental folk music, and trained the dog to predict, respond to and calm her anxiety.
Although there were bumpy spots, the pair became a constant presence on campus.
Academically, Plokhaar was also exploring what she wanted from her studies and often received guidance from academic counselling, resulting in a switch from a bachelor of music stream to a BA with specialization in music, and a course load stretching across five years instead of the usual three or four.
“I discovered musical performance wasn’t my thing and teaching wasn’t my thing. But I discovered music administration was something I really enjoyed and am good at,” Plokhaar said.
A year ago, she was hired as co-manager with Andrea Ferencova of the London Youth Symphony, a group she had performed with for five years during high school. Her work included redeveloping the organization’s social-media presence and organizing fundraisers.
“My goal has been to create a fun- and friendship-building organization, which is also an important point in playing together because it helps them work together and listen to each other’s performances.
“I like seeing musicians smile at rehearsals. It’s great to hear the music grow as they rehearse it and build community and friendships,” said Plokhaar.
She has some advice for people needing accessibility accommodations: “Start early, as early as you can, as soon as you enter university, if not before then.”
She is not defined by Grainger, and she relies on him less and less these days, but he is an important part of her life and her academic journey.
“I’m doing great now. I was struggling and now I’m thriving,” she said, noting she is living in her own apartment and recently took a solo trip to Iceland and Germany.