Janean Marshall's voice cracked with emotion as she described receiving her second master's degree and serving as valedictorian at Mount Saint Vincent University's convocation Sunday.
"It's pretty amazing to be a Mi'kmaq person in this province and be given an opportunity to have a voice and a say and to thank all the people along your journey that have helped you get where you are today," she said. "I don't think the moment, or the opportunity, really sunk in until I was standing at the podium and looking down at my speech."
Marshall, a resident of Eskasoni, said her message to fellow graduates at the Halifax university was for them to endeavour to a make a difference.
"In whatever path that they're choosing today, having just received education degrees and master of education degrees, that they have a duty to be an agent of change in their communities, to work in whatever capacity to give back and teach the next generation and instill pride in who they are and where they come from," she said.
It's a philosophy that Marshall has been living for years, both in her community and in her career in education.
A mother, wife, educator, basketball coach and active community volunteer, Marshall added to her growing list of credentials Sunday, earning a master's of education degree in curriculum studies, with a specialty in supporting diverse learning needs. It's her fourth university degree, having already earned a bachelor of arts degree focused on Mi’kmaq studies from the University College of Cape Breton (now Cape Breton University) in 1999, a bachelor of education degree specializing in diverse cultures and languages from St. Francis Xavier University in 2001, and a master's of education degree in leadership and administration from St. FX in 2010.
She has more than 10 years of experience teaching in the classroom and for the last few years has worked as a student services consultant with Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey serving students with diverse learning needs.
"I work with teachers in our MK board in the area of special education, so I provide professional development and ongoing training opportunities in that area," she said.
Marshall was able to earn her latest master's degree while continuing to live and work in Cape Breton, as Mount Saint Vincent offered the program in a satellite location in Membertou. As a mother of three, including a 10-year-old son with autism, Marshall has a very personal interest in advocating for children with special needs, and takes with her from Mount Saint Vincent new knowledge and new skills in her field.
"Being a mother of a special needs child in our communities, I've learned very quickly that you have to be a voice of advocacy, so for me going forward, I take on that role as a promoter and advocate for inclusion and social justice in our Mi'kmaq education, looking at equitable services in our communities, and making sure that our kids get the best opportunities possible," she said.
Originally from Massachusetts, Marshall's family roots are in Eskasoni, and she moved permanently to the Cape Breton First Nations community as young adult.
"When I made the decision to enter post-secondary I wanted to come back to Cape Breton because I had spent a lot of time here throughout the summers of my childhood," she recalled. "There's something about crossing that causeway — you just feel like you're home and Eskasoni has been an amazing place to learn and grow and start a family and live with my family."
(via Cape Breton Post/MSVU.)