Going to school was never really Cassie McDonald’s thing.
So much so, in fact, she didn’t bother finishing high school, opting instead for a cooking job and a steady paycheque.
How this high school dropout from Burnaby ended up an A+ student at Vancouver Community College and chasing down a newly discovered passion for the mind is something of a weird science.
Everything changed for McDonald in 2009 when she was diagnosed with a brain tumour and nearly died around her 20th birthday.
She spent a month in the hospital where she started to learn first-hand how interesting it can be learn the ins and outs of your own brain.
"I didn’t think about all the amazing things that medicine can do,” she says. "But after I had my experience, it made me want to get into science."
After completing months of intense rehab to get healthy again, McDonald says it wasn’t long before she was bit by the learning bug and decided to retest her abilities in the classroom, enrolling in a few high school level science courses at VCC.
“I did really good,” she says somewhat jokingly, “and then decided to keep on piling on more courses until I finished high school.”
After earning her Adult Dogwood high school diploma at VCC, McDonald went on to complete 28 first-year university credits, registering a remarkable 4.2 GPA. Remarkable because she now has epilepsy as a result of the brain tumor, endures ongoing physiotherapy, takes medication daily, and never really liked school in the first place.
Now, she loves learning and is proud to admit she has a real knack for it.
“I had this crazy thing happen to me. I’ve been given a new chance to live.”
Of her dramatic change in attitude about education McDonald says, “I think science needs people like me. People who see a different side of it to help make it better.”
Up next: UBC in September, where McDonald aims to complete a biology degree and work toward becoming a lab researcher, specializing in stem cell research and neuroscience.
“I have momentum. There’s no way I’m stopping now.”