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Arts alum now writing his next chapter at Dalhousie

A job offer he couldn’t refuse in publishing meant David Leonard (BA’22) left Dal before finishing his BA in the 1990s. Then online learning during COVID gave him the opportunity to complete it from Toronto in 2022. Now graduated, he’s supporting the arts and literature through his work, and giving back to Dalhousie as a volunteer member of the Dalhousie Alumni Association.

Portrait of David Leonard smiling with his arms crossed.

Posted: June 10, 2024

By: Charlotte Hall-Coates

David Leonard (BA’22) grew up in a family of book lovers, but that doesn’t mean he saw himself one day becoming the executive director of a charity that is one of Canada’s largest supporters of Canadian authors.

Growing up in Dartmouth, N.S., one of Leonard’s first jobs was shelving books in the local used bookstore. And even though his talents for math in high school led him to enroll in the mathematics program at Dal in the 1990s, Leonard quickly switched to social sciences after being inspired by his FASS elective courses.

“I really found myself being lit up by the social sciences courses,” Leonard remembers. “English and history courses in particular, so I pivoted to doing a social sciences degree by focusing on history.” 

Deciding to leave Dal

Just a few credits shy of graduating, Leonard was offered a job in publishing, too good to pass up. Leonard ultimately made the difficult decision to leave Dal early.  Although he left without a degree, Leonard says his time at Dal still helped shape his career in publishing and beyond.

“[My time at Dal] taught me how to read critically, how to synthesize, how to relate to people, how to put things into context. That is an invaluable lesson.”

Leonard went on to apply those lessons to his work for a number of prominent book publishers and numerous non-profits, including the Institute for Canadian Citizenship and The Walrus Foundation. Now the executive director of Writers’ Trust of Canada, Leonard believes strongly in supporting writers.

“My role is to celebrate and support Canadian writers,” he says. “They help us interpret things. They help us see ourselves in a different way. They give us perspective.”
Leonard is standing on a makeshift stage at a clear podium with Writers' Trust of Canada banners behind him.

Unfinished business

Although Leonard has had many successes in his career, there was always something sticking in the back of his mind: returning to Dal to finish his degree. The opportunity finally presented itself during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the world slowed down, Leonard had the time to return to the (virtual) classroom.

“The pandemic opened up all this time and space for people, and because universities went online it offered me more flexibility in terms of finishing what I started.”

Leonard completed his degree in 2022, earning his BA more than two decades after he began it. 

Writing the next chapter

With his degree now in hand, Leonard is writing his next chapter with Dal. As a member of the Dalhousie Alumni Association (DAA), he is bringing his passion and experience back to where it all started. In this role, he and other board members aim to strengthen Dal’s relationships across the globe and promote alumni engagement.

“What I hope to do is just remind people that this is a world-class school and [Halifax is] a world-class city.”

While Leonard now calls Ontario home, he embraces this opportunity to stay connected to Dal and Halifax, explaining, “I still feel the pull.” Looking toward the future, he sees his work with the DAA as his opportunity “to tell the great stories about this school and about the community that made me who I am today.”

A group of men and women pose in semi-formal attire at an event. David Leonard, second from the left, along with the other Dal Alumni Association 2024 board members at an event in June 2024.