Still giving marching band the college try, 35 years later

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. -- Reading teacher Dawn West, 52, is a joyous person -- always has been -- but says the very happiest days of her life were the ones spent as a member of the West Virginia University marching band.

Look back at old pictures and all you see is ecstasy. It was a dream come true. In high school, she saved her babysitting money to buy a trumpet and taught herself to play, hoping just to audition for the band.

"I remember saying, 'I may not make it in, but I gave it my all,'" Dawn says with tears in her eyes.

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Dawn West when she joined the University of West Virginia marching band.

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It's still emotional now?   

"It is! It really is," Dawn says. 

Obviously she did make it in, but what's even more amazing is that she never left.

Betrayed only by a few tufts of gray hair, Dawn may look like any other band member, but she is the oldest by a generation. In fact, the kids call her Grandma, although they also say it's not a very fitting nickname.

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The University of West Virginia's marching band.

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"Definitely a source of youthfulness," the kids say.

Youthfulness?!

"Oh yea, that's the best way to describe her," they say. 

They say she's much more like a senior classmate than a senior citizen.

She's got to slow things down, though?

"Actually, quite the opposite," says band director Scott Tobias. "She's usually the first one back in position ... In fact, I pointed her out and told the younger ones, 'Do what she's doing.'"

After 35 years, Grandma -- who actually has no children and has never married -- hasn't lost a step or an ounce of passion.

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Dawn West, 52, marching in the University of West Virginia marching band.

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"I've never lost that excitement for game day," Dawn says.  

But they don't just let people stay in the band forever? 

"No, I was in school full-time," Dawn says.  

This sounds expensive.

"It was," she says. "I was getting loan after loan."  

And all this was just to be in band?  

"To be in band, yeah," Dawn says. 

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Dawn West plays the trumpet in the University of West Virginia marching band.

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Eventually, after taking so many classes she didn't need, the university now lets her just take band -- paving the way for what seems to be Dawn's destiny -- as America's only lifetime college student.

I couldn't figure out if I should tell her to grow up, or if I should just be jealous.

"People have told me that," Dawn admits. "Many people have said it. And then other people are like, 'Wow, if I could do what you're doing, I would do it.'"

A lot of us can look back on our glory days, but wouldn't it be nice, to forever look forward to them.

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  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.