Michelle Martin

Martin travels long road to convocation

There may be nobody more proud to step on stage at TCU Place this month than Michelle Martin.

By James Shewaga

Especially when you consider that just a few years ago, doctors told her that she may never walk again.

But Martin never let being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis define her. After tentatively taking her first few steps, the 48-year-old former single mother was more determined than ever to complete a journey that has been 30 years in the making, and will finish at the University of Saskatchewan Spring Convocation ceremonies. "I will probably be the proudest one on stage, because I never, ever, thought it would happen," said Martin, who will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in sociology. "MS alone is a big struggle because the fatigue kills you. So for me, university was something that I didn't think I was going to finish and many times I wanted to give up. But I had such strong support."

Battling MS was one of the many roadblocks that she has navigated on her path in life. Born of Métis heritage in the small town of St. Benedict, 110 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon, Martin dropped out of high school in 1986, the year she became pregnant with her son Kyle. She finished Grade 12 in Saskatoon in a program designed for single mothers and then spent the next 15 years working as a hairdresser and raising her son and her daughter Mikayla on her own.

Determined to go back to school one day, Martin did just that in 2001 when she attended St. Peter's College for two years as a mature student. But juggling school, work and parenting proved to be overwhelming.

"I was a single mom at the time and it was just too hard to keep up with school and with two young children and having to work at the same time," said Martin. "So I left school, but I always said that when my kids were grown, I would go back. So I did!"

But life had another major challenge ahead of her before coming to campus. First diagnosed with MS in the 1990s, Martin's condition took a turn for the worse, and she was put on permanent disability in 2012. But with a commitment to improving her health, and plenty of grit and determination, she worked her way out of the wheelchair and back onto her feet again.

"I had been confined to a wheelchair and was told that I would never do a lot of things again, but I don't live by that word ‘never'," said Martin, who enrolled at U of S in 2014, the same year she married her husband Isaac. "I had walking aids when I first came back and I had lots of support from friends driving me. But now I am fully functional and walking around campus on my own … I got myself healthy and finished my degree."

Next week, Martin will graduate with the highest mark (95 per cent) in her Sociology 347 class and will be among the first students to earn a certificate in the new criminology and addictions program at the U of S. Her determination and dedication has served as an inspiration on campus.

"I am extremely proud of Michelle and how much I have seen her grow in this past year academically, personally and professionally," said U of S sociology professor Colleen Dell, who was Martin's practicum placement supervisor in the always-popular therapy dogs research program. "She has a real ‘go get it' attitude and is very much open to learning. I am sure that is what has enabled her to finish her degree: an innate drive and sense of curiosity. And of course, as a sociologist, a commitment to, and a recognition of, her own contributing role in our community."

On campus at the U of S, Martin has found a whole community behind her, with the university's commitment to Aboriginal achievement a part of the support system that has helped her reach her goal of graduating.

"I think no matter what culture you are from, we all need help along the way," said Martin. "I am very proud of myself for doing it because I think it sets the stage for a lot of my First Nations and Métis brothers and sisters, that if we really do put our mind to something, you can accomplish it."