A Most Promising Quartet

By Renée Hartleib | spring 2017

If there’s one thing that these Saint Mary’s newest alumni have in common, other than exceptional academics and extremely well-rounded resumes, it’s that each one is uniquely inspiring. All four are not only poised to make a huge impact, but are actively welcoming the opportunity to make the world a better place. Keep your eye on these four names in the years to come!

Spearheading the Millennial Promise

After contracting a mono-like virus when she was 16, Amanda Brown missed 180 days of school and suffered for years with chronic neurological pain and mobility issues. Although her illness meant it took longer for her to complete her Honours Bachelor of Science degree (five years instead of four), Brown says that the experience taught her a lot about persistence and resilience. It also taught her about gratitude and giving back.

“Coming from a working class family and being chronically ill throughout high school, the ability to go to university was something that was dreamed about, but not guaranteed.” Growing up in Enfield, Nova Scotia, Brown was the type of kid who loved reading about science and philosophy, who chose to dress eccentrically to bring more whimsy and magic to the world, and who always knew she wanted to make an impact.

What she didn’t know was that during her university studies, she would also overcome her physical challenges to become a Zumba instructor, make friends from around the world, graduate with a 4.12 grade point average, and be chosen as class valedictorian. 

Her future field of study—human genetics—doesn’t come as a surprise though. She has long been fascinated by this field and looks forward to applying it in an area that has deep personal interest. Brown has been accepted into the Masters of Science program to study the genetics behind depression and suicidal behaviour. “There is a lot of mental illness and depression in my family and being unaffected myself, I’ve always wondered about the genetic component.” 

She hopes to help people with her research and is particularly passionate about making scientific concepts accessible to the general public. “I think, as scientists, that we have a responsibility to make the public more scientifically aware and literate. The academic community doesn’t always do a great job at translating. I’d like to change that.”

Brown sees education as the highest form of privilege and believes that those who receive an education have a duty to try and make the world a better place.

In her valedictorian address that received a rare standing ovation, Brown talked of the tremendous promise of her generation, especially about the importance of their socially progressive values in today’s world. “Our generation has the ability to shake up the world for the better and wield education as a sword to take up against ignorance, bigotry, and regression.”

 

Advocating for Progressive Change

As a kid, growing up in Antigua and Barbuda, André Edwards dreamed of becoming an accountant. At the tender age of 22, his dream is coming true. And it was offered to him a full six months before convocation! This fall, the Bachelor of Commerce grad starts his career as an accountant with Grant Thornton, a firm in Halifax.

Edwards now joins the huge contingent of Antiguan alumni, many of whom inspired and supported him to make the leap to a university education. “Growing up, I heard about Saint Mary’s from so many of my mentors.” As the first to attend university in his family, Edwards says it was a surreal moment when he received his acceptance letter. “I wanted to make my parents and my community proud.” 

To that end, he not only excelled academically during his four years of school, but was involved in nearly every facet of campus life: President of the Commerce Society, varsity athlete, Resident Assistant, SMUSA Manager. “I wanted to be very involved and active and have the whole university experience. It’s been pretty busy,” he laughs. “But I’ve met so many amazing people.” 

He credits his parents for teaching him the importance of hard work. They worked long hours and often held down two jobs while he was growing up. Showing his own drive and initiative from a young age, Edwards created odd jobs for himself, even growing tomatoes one summer to sell to the local sandwich shop. At age 16, he and a group of friends founded a non-profit organization in Antigua called Project Sync (www.projectsync.org). For the last six years, they have raised funds and lobbied the government on important environmental and social issues. 

“We have a great deal of natural beauty in Antigua and Barbuda that needs to be protected and preserved,” he says. “I love being part of something that advocates for progressive change.” Throughout his time in Halifax, Edwards has continued his involvement and hopes to one day return home and work full-time with the growing organization.

While Edwards has worked hard to accomplish all that he has, he is very aware that he’s one of the lucky ones. “There are so many people I grew up with who didn’t have the same opportunities,” he says. “I attended university for all of them.” 

 

Spreading Values of Tolerance

Before he even graduated from high school, Ben Gaunce paid a visit to Saint Mary’s - the university he had his sights set on. The enterprising student had served on his high school’s student council in Saint John, New Brunswick and was interested in becoming part of the SMUSA Executive. Gaunce boldly reached out to the Vice President of University Affairs at the time and was invited to come for a tour. That visit changed the course of his life. 

“I knew I wanted to be sitting in that Vice President chair and I knew I wanted to come to university and make a difference.” Gaunce has succeeded on both counts. After working as a Residence Assistant, and then serving on SMUSA’s Board of Directors in his third year, he was hired to the VP position he had aspired to since high school. 

A storyteller by nature, Gaunce used his theatre background and natural charisma in presentations to large crowds of students, Members of Parliament, CEOs of companies, and university administration. He absolutely loved advocating on behalf of students, but discovered that his biggest passion lies with individuals and their inner journey to become their best selves. 

It resulted in him applying to graduate programs in Speech Pathology at Dalhousie and McGill. “As someone who is able to make friends easily enough and talk in front of people, I know the reward of this kind of communication and connection,” he says. “I want to work with people who have difficulty communicating with others and help them feel more confident in their own abilities.”

Following in his father’s footsteps—Andrew Gaunce, BComm’87—the 21-year-old recently graduated with an Honours in Psychology, a Major in Spanish, and a Minor in Religious Studies. His involvement in campus activities was as varied as his course of study, with a long commitment to Peaceful Schools International. He and 15 other students travelled to Ireland earlier this year where they spoke about alternative ways to deal with conflict in Belfast classrooms. It’s these kind of diverse experiences with many different cultures around the world that Gaunce will miss. 

“I’ve been so proud to be part of a school that fosters and appreciates diversity and actively tries to share it,” he says. “If the world could replicate what we’re doing here, it would be a better place. I plan on taking all the values that this school has instilled in me and spreading them as best I can, wherever I go.”

 

Authentically Pursuing Her Passions

After hearing about Saint Mary’s while attending high school in her home country of the Bahamas, Barrinique Griffin made it her mission to attend. Although she had received full funding to go to a college at home, the then-17-year-old felt a strong intuitive nudge to come to Canada.

A partial scholarship and the encouragement of her mom helped make Saint Mary’s a reality and although she’s never really gotten used to the winters, the small campus, warm people, and the proximity to the ocean, have made Halifax feel like home. 

After a bit of a lonely and awkward first year, Griffin changed her mindset and kicked it into high gear. She stepped outside her comfort zone and began working as a Residence Assistant, started volunteering at Adsum House, joined the Executive of the Caribbean Society, and then shortly thereafter, founded a leadership conference—called the Saint Mary’s Leadership Summit—that has grown in both numbers and popularity, year after year. 

“Watching this conference grow and watching myself grow with it, has been one of my most memorable and meaningful experiences at university. I’ve realized so much about my own passions and the impact that I hope to make.” Griffin adds that it was this experience that caused her to shift her major to Entrepreneurship.

One glance at her numerous leadership awards tells you that this young woman is already well on her way to influencing positive change. In the future, as a business consultant or executive coach, she hopes to help people—women especially—step into their own power, gain financial stability, and become educated. “I truly believe if more people figured out their purpose in this life and authentically pursued their passions, the world would be a better place. I want to help other people do that.” 

Growing up with a single mom who didn’t have much money, Griffin was the recipient of a helping hand more than once. She dreams of repaying those kindnesses. “People have given me all kinds of first and second chances and they’ve made a lasting impact on me. I’d like to do the same for other people.” One of her long-term dreams is to establish a shelter for women and children leaving abusive relationships or experiencing financial hardship.

Griffin was delighted and proud to be chosen as her class valedictorian, and to have her mother and grandmother attend the event. “I felt so humble and grateful that my Grammy had the opportunity to see me graduate and that I got to show her and my family why I came to this country.”

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