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Music, science were elements in Chariho student’s path of recovery

WOOD RIVER JUNCTION — Chariho High School senior Erin McDonough has an impressive list of accomplishments.

From her role as president of the high school chorus and member of two selective vocal groups, to her plans to pursue a six-year degree in pharmacy at the University of Rhode Island, this Richmond student seems to be well on her way along a path of success.

Her journey was not without struggle, however. McDonough’s cheerful demeanor is clouded by tears as she remembers her early childhood living with an abusive mother. “It began ever since I can remember, till I was about 7 or 8,” she said.

After revealing the truth behind her many painful bumps and bruises to her father, Michael McDonough, her mom moved out.

“I’m lucky I’ve had such a supportive father,” McDonough said. “He’s filled both parental roles for me, really.”

Though the abuse ended with her mother’s departure, McDonough noted that developing into an adolescent girl without a mother was still difficult.

“Having just a dad when you’re a girl going through puberty, well, it’s not always easy,” she said. “He handled it like a pro, though. He really does have a sensitive, caring side to him.”

In those initial years after her mother left, McDonough also recalled struggling with anxiety and panic attacks, some while in school.

“It would get awkward sometimes, when I would have a panic attack in the middle of class,” she said, though she quickly added that her friends’ support was crucial to her recovery. “They’re always 100 percent supportive. Most of them tell me they never would have guessed about what happened to me.”

Music also served a major source of comfort and peace for McDonough, especially after she joined the middle school choir group.

“That was the one time when I could just let it all go,” she said.

McDonough pursued her vocal talents for the duration of her time at Chariho, as a member of the high school chorus, and the women’s and co-ed vocal groups under the direction of Lynn Dowding, the music and choral director.

“She was always there for me,” McDonough said, recalling one particular song she learned with Dowding in which she was given a solo. “It’s a song about Martin Luther King Jr. and his struggle. I could really relate to it. I think it kind of explains my life.”

Looking to her future, McDonough expressed excitement and confidence in her plans to study pharmacy at URI, a choice that she credited to several of her science teachers at Chariho.

“I’ve always loved science, and I’ve had so many really great teachers,” she said, naming Katherine Sutton, her high school physiology and biology teacher, as one such person. “Some of my teachers, I can go to them for anything. They’re a great support system.”

McDonough said she also plans to pursue her love for music while in college by participating in URI’s musical theater program.

“That’s really my passion, I think,” she said, citing Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland as some of her musical inspirations and role models.

Before starting college, however, McDonough said she hopes to work at a coffee shop this summer, while also spending time pursuing her hobbies of drawing, reading and watching old movies and TV shows like “I Love Lucy,” and “The Brady Bunch.”

“My grandma baby-sat me a lot growing up, so I think she definitely influenced my taste,” she said. “While other kids were watching ‘Sesame Street,’ I was watching ‘Golden Girls.’”

McDonough said she is also still in some contact with her mother, who now lives in Pawtucket.

“She’s my mother and I’m going to love her no matter what,” she said, though she noted that living apart from her mom was a key part of her recovery. “It’s bittersweet, really.”

McDonough, and the rest of the Chariho class of 2014, will celebrate the end of their high school careers Friday in a graduation ceremony at URI.

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