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From chemotherapy to convocation

Law and society spring graduate bounces back after cancer

Part of a special feature celebrating the success of Memorial's graduates. This feature coincides with spring 2018 convocation ceremonies.


By Janet Harron

There is no doubt that graduating with a high GPA, being on the dean’s list and getting into law school are significant accomplishments.

But for Brean Marshall, who will pick up her bachelor of arts degree on Tuesday, May 29, during convocation ceremonies at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre, those achievements are just the beginning of her story.

Life-changing news

In 2015 Ms. Marshall, who is from Clarke’s Beach, N.L., was in her second year of her bachelor of arts degree program when she was diagnosed with stage III Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Before heading to Halifax, N.S., for a PET scan to confirm the diagnosis, she completed the exams she could and deferred the ones she wasn’t able to physically attend.

“I had a lot of plans when I came to Memorial – but everything I had arranged had to be shifted slightly,” she said.

She began bi-weekly treatments at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s. Unable to attend classes in person due to her weakened immune system, Ms. Marshall completed two courses by distance during the winter semester while receiving treatment and two courses during the summer of 2016 in order to graduate on time.

“I thought I would never be able to get through it and I did.” — Brean Marshall

Now cancer-free and armed with her degree (a major in law and society and a minor in political science) and a certificate in criminology, she is headed to the University of New Brunswick law school in September.

“I thought I would never be able to get through it and I did. When I have difficulties now, I try to be conscious that everything I thought I could never do I have done,” she says. “Life is still going to be life — it’s all about how you approach the challenges you are faced with.”

‘Hard work and tenacity’

For Dr. Amanda Bittner of the Department of Political Science, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, it’s working with students like Ms. Marshall that remind her of how much she loves her job.

“Students like Brean put a swing in my step when I’m on my way to work each morning.” — Dr. Amanda Bittner

She says Ms. Marshall hasn’t had “an easy ride” while doing her undergraduate degree.

“She is tough and she works hard, though, and as a result of it all, she made it onto the Dean’s list in the first semester after she completed chemotherapy,” she said.

“All of her hard work and tenacity throughout her degree has really paid off — she received one of the highest grades in the class in both of the courses she took with me. Students like Brean put a swing in my step when I’m on my way to work each morning.”

Goal oriented

Ms. Marshall encourages her fellow students to avoid getting caught up in the stress of exams and deadlines and to value learning for its own sake.

In addition to the personal challenges she has faced she believes her academic focus has been instrumental in her success.

“I don’t think that I would be the person I am or equipped as well as I am for law school without studying the humanities. I have learned to see all different perspectives and to be open to conversation through listening,” she says adding, “I think conflicts happen when you can’t hear the other side.”


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