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Unlocking doors

Joyce Foundation bursary recipient embraces challenges — and conquers them

Student Life

By Sarah Joy Cook

What would you do if you moved to a new country where you didn’t speak the language and your well-laid plans took an unexpected detour?

In Bana Sakkar’s case, the new Memorial University graduate persevered and forged a new path.

And for her determination and resilience, the Joyce Foundation awarded Ms. Sakkar a “truly transformative” bursary.  

A fresh start

Ms. Sakkar’s journey began when she left her home in Syria, seeking safety and a brighter future.

She first landed in Saudi Arabia, where she completed half of her high school program. Looking for more opportunities, and with family in St. John’s, she took a leap of faith and moved to Canada.

Starting anew in a foreign country posed several challenges.

She navigated culture shock and a language barrier. Worse, she discovered she needed to start her high school education from scratch.

Despite this wrenching setback, Ms. Sakkar did not give up. 

She completed high school locally and began her Bachelor of Science Degree Program in behavioural neuroscience at Memorial University in 2019.

Doing so meant she was the first person in her family to attend a post-secondary institution. 

A lifeline

The day she learned she was to receive a Joyce Foundation bursary, Ms. Sakkar says her emotions welled up.

“I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. The financial burden of pursuing a post-secondary education was one of the major stones in the way of my dream.” 

Established by the Joyce Family Foundation, which was founded by the late businessman and philanthropist Ron Joyce, the Joyce Foundation bursary is more than just financial assistance: it’s a key that unlocks doors to a brighter future.

The bursary funds tuition and mandatory fees for the fall and winter semesters, renewable for up to three additional years; it also funds a dedicated advisor, career development opportunities and student enrichment activities.

One of the qualifying criteria is dedication to education and perseverance in the face of challenges — something Ms. Sakkar has demonstrated throughout her life.

“It was an honour to receive this support and the extremely valuable opportunities that came with it.” — Bana Sakkar

For Ms. Sakkar, the Joyce Foundation bursary was a lifeline, propelling her forward in her academic journey.

“If I could speak to the Joyce family, I would extend my deepest gratitude. It was an honour to receive this support and the extremely valuable opportunities that came with it; it has been truly transformative.”  

Challenge pays off

While in her first year at Memorial, Ms. Sakkar set her sights on the prestigious Lou Visentin Award.

The award recognizes students who make the Dean’s or Director’s List for all four years of their bachelor of science or bachelor of science  (honours) degree program. 

“I knew I could do it — it was within reach.” — Bana Sakkar

Ms. Sakkar’s goal was clear, and she was ready to chase it.

“It was a long-term goal, a challenge I set for myself,” she said. “I made the Dean’s List my first year, and then my second, and by my third year I knew I could do it — it was within reach.”

‘Show up every day’

Ms. Sakkar’s journey is far from over.

With a Memorial University undergraduate degree complete, she says she remains inspired by her experiences and plans to further pursue her passion for neuroscience through postgraduate programs.

Her story is a testament to the opportunities and transformations that higher education can bring. 

To new students feeling lost or struggling with uncertainties, Ms. Sakkar offers some advice. 

“Be proud of yourself for starting this challenge. Acknowledge that this is hard but promise yourself that you will persevere and show up every day. It’s important to be open-minded about the journey and take advantage of the help offered, whether it’s from an academic advisor, a supervisor or a mentor.” 

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