Three Shenandoah Conservatory alumni were selected as 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients:
- Young Career Achievement: Desirèe Dabney ’14 (Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting)
- Hornet Hero Award: Maura Sherlach Schwartz ’06 (Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre)
- Lifetime Achievement: Thomas Wilkins ’78 (Bachelor of Music in Music Education)
They joined Tavan Mair ’04 (Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology) who was recognized with the Service to the Community Award; Ashley Dunbar Carson ’08 (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) who was recognized with Hornet Hero Award – COVID-19; and Mary-Colleen Hightower Ensogna ’09 (Bachelor of Science in History) who was recognized with Professional Achievement.
All 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients were recognized during Shenandoah University’s Homecoming & Family Weekend from Thursday, Sept. 29, through Sunday, Oct. 2.
Hornet Hero Award: Maura Sherlach Schwartz
Maura graduated in 2006, with her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. She is in her 14th year as a high school choir director/teacher. She is also the executive director of the South Jersey Chapter of Mary’s Fund, which raises awareness to aid mental health social organizations as well as scholarships for local high school students. Maura has presented and spoken to numerous community and school groups about her experience in losing her mother at the Sandy Hook massacre, which prompted the creation of Mary’s Fund in the aftermath of the massacre. Her mother’s life mission was to support student mental health and Maura is dedicated to continuing her mother’s legacy through Mary’s Fund.
Young Career Achievement Award: Desirèe S. Dabney
Desirèe graduated in 2014, with her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting. While teaching in Richmond Public Schools, she noticed that there were no theater programs offered in middle school and made it her mission to bring theater to the schools by starting a program from the ground up. She later became the first black woman to join the Virginia Theater Association as a board member and also joined the Virginia Department of Education curriculum instruction and steering committee. As a professional actor, she filmed a national commercial for Google, performed in a show on Apple TV and was in the first-ever virtual showing of “Dreamgirls.” When the pandemic began she saw the impact it had on her students and immediately began reaching out to their families to help them set up Zoom. She offered over 100 theater classes virtually, which gained attention and she was asked to teach/mentor 100 teachers in Virginia on how to teach virtually. Desirèe is now the head of musical theatre at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, creating a new Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in musical theatre and rewriting curriculum.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Thomas A. Wilkins
Thomas is an alumnus of Shenandoah Conservatory, graduating in 1978 with a double major in music education and voice. In 1982, he received a Master of Music in Orchestral Conducting from New England Conservatory of Music. He has served on the music faculties of North Park University (Chicago), the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. He was appointed music director of the Omaha Symphony in 2005, and 2007/08 marked his second season with that orchestra. The 2007/08 season also marked his eighth season as resident conductor of the Detroit Symphony. Thomas is also a principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and was formerly the family and youth concerts conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO). In March 2020, he was promoted to a newly created position as the BSO’s artistic adviser for education and community engagement. In this role at the BSO, Thomas is expanding his presence in the Boston Public Schools and leading masterclasses with students participating in a program called BEAM (Bridge to Equity and Achievement in Music), among other responsibilities. He was recognized as a Shenandoah Conservatory Alumnus of Excellence in 1998 and received an honorary Doctorate of Music degree from SU in 2003.