Life-Changing Acceptance

For Hilary Baird, graduate school will be just the latest in a long line of triumphs.


From a rejection on her first application to Eastern, to admission as a graduate student at one of the nation’s top music programs, EWU’s Hilary Baird has lived a true Cinderella story.

In January, Baird was shocked and delighted to receive an acceptance letter and a partial scholarship from the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. She was admitted to the college’s music education program, where she will pursue a master’s degree with a concentration on music education for those on the autism spectrum.

The program, administered by Berklee’s Institute for Accessible Arts Education, is the only one of its kind in the country.


Hilary Baird

“It is highly competitive due to the school’s national reputation and how exclusive the area of study is,” says Jonathan Middleton, a professor of music theory and composition at EWU who has worked closely with Baird. “Admission to the program is a life-changing experience for her, and for the future students she will serve.”

Baird, a talented pianist who has long struggled with reading and mathematics, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age 24. Today she is passionate about teaching music to others whose musical ambitions are challenged by physical or cognitive obstacles — something she has been doing for the past eight years.

“There are so many with disabilities, and other marginalized groups of people, who are not getting their talents shared or having their needs met,” Baird says. “They are very intelligent, but they need to learn their way, not the [traditional] system’s way.”

Baird herself has had to surmount many such obstacles to reach success.

As a young person on the spectrum, progressing through school was an uphill climb. She graduated from high school, but her application for admission to Eastern was rejected due to a low GPA. “The idea of college was not in the cards for me,” Baird says she told herself at the time.

But after four years of service in the U.S. Navy — and accruing the educational benefits that her service provided — Baird chose to give college, and Eastern, another try. She has since flourished.

  Baird is currently on the university’s Dean’s List with a 3.7 GPA, and will graduate in June with a bachelor’s degree in music composition.

“I know there are people at Berklee who will put me in the position to get me where I want to go, and to do what I want to do,” says Baird.  “For me, it’s really monumental. I’m fighting for the right of my students to be heard.”