Janice Neil, Declan Keogh and Adrian Ma at convocation

Janice Neil, Declan Keogh and Adrian Ma at convocation

By Latoya Powell (RSJ ’21)

A few years after dropping out of high school to join Vancouver-based punk band, UnFun, Declan Keogh and his bandmates got into a serious car accident during their 2013 tour. In Indiana, a young driver hit them head on, severely damaging both vehicles.

“There was a huge eight-foot flame [coming out of the van] and everyone was freaking out,” Keogh recalled in a recent interview.

Five people were in the van at the time of the accident. Keogh and two bandmates were hospitalized.

The driver of the other car died at the scene.

“It caused us to reassess what we were doing with our lives,” Keogh said. “That’s when I realized that I wanted to go to school.”

Keogh said he was, initially, uncertain about whether he would succeed at Ryerson University, but he was determined to make the most of the opportunity.

He didn’t need to worry.

He not only graduated from the four-year School of Journalism program on June 13, 2019, he was awarded a top honour –  the Gold Medal at the convocation ceremony. The Gold Medal is awarded to one graduating student per faculty for distinguished academic achievement and involvement in the community.

“I didn’t expect that much of myself, because I dropped out of high school,” Keogh said, adding that it was “nice to be recognized” for his hard work.

“I’m older than most of the students, so when I came, I was ready to learn,” said Keogh,

who was admitted as a mature student at age 25.

“I really wanted to be the best that I could—and prove to myself that I could, because I wasn’t sure.”

Since starting the journalism program in 2015, Keogh has won multiple awards. In the past year, he has won the 2018 Newstalk 1010 Award for outstanding journalistic abilities, the 2018 Toronto Star award for the best investigative piece and he placed second in the Emerge Media Awards, as part of the work produced by RSJ’s 2018 Hong Kong 360 course.  

“(Keogh) is an accomplished investigative journalist who uses his lived experiences to pursue stories about marginalized and at-risk communities to shed light in areas that others would otherwise ignore,” said Janice Neil, Chair of Ryerson’s School of Journalism, during convocation.

In her nomination letter, Neil said Keogh’s reporting highlighted social issues that needed more public awareness, such as his articles for Now Toronto covering the opioid crisis, and the effect his work has already had.

“When he covered HIV, he wanted a story that had an impact: he made the courageous decision to write about his own experience with someone’s non-disclosure of their status and he, essentially, came out as bisexual,” Neil said in her nomination letter. “He still gets emails from readers saying they had no idea about how HIV non-disclosure is treated in Canada.”

Last winter, Keogh turned down more prestigious opportunities to pursue an investigative journalism project about First Nations communities in southern Ontario.

“To me, that reflects a selfless dedication to doing journalism that makes a difference,” instructor Kevin MacLean said in his nomination letter.

eogh is now working as a reporter and researcher for the Institute for Investigative Journalism, a joint effort between Canadian journalism schools and media organizations to give students hands-on training. It conducts large-scale, journalistic investigations in areas of Canada where investigative resources are scarce.