Janet Marie Higgins (1939 – 2015) graduated with a high school diploma from Mount Saint Vincent Academy in 1957. But her experience in the Halifax area school system was anything but ordinary.
She was born in 1939 in the north end of Halifax. In 1942, she was diagnosed with encephalitis resulting from an adverse reaction to a diphtheria vaccine and she spent six weeks in a coma. When she awakened, she had significant paralysis on the right side of her body and damage to the left half of her brain.
Janet’s mother refused to accept the advice of doctors to keep her comfortable at home until she died, and she taught Janet to walk and talk, ride a bicycle, read and write and do simple math by the time she was 6 years old. Although Janet was ready to go to school, the Bloomfield school would only accept her after an IQ test proved that she was capable of learning, but she would not be able to continue her education beyond the 8th grade in the Halifax public school system.
That’s when Janet’s parents decided to enrol her as a day student at the Academy. Janet graduated from the Academy with a high school diploma in 1957 and went on to marry, raise three daughters, serve as district commissioner of the Topsail district Dartmouth of the Girl Guides, and work as a volunteer in several community organizations helping marginalized children, including those with disabilities. Janet often noted to people the support and encouragement she received from the Sisters helped her to become a role model for others with disabilities.
During the 1980s, Janet was employed by the RCMP in Halifax to manage the inventory records for the fleet of vehicles and related equipment in use throughout Nova Scotia.
Janet is the first of three generations of MSVU grads in her family. Her daughter, Suzanne (Sue) Drapeau earned a BSc in 1980 and a BPR in 1983 , and her granddaughter Leah Phillips completed a Bachelor of Arts degree at MSVU in 2014 (majors in Math and English, minor in History).
MSVU’s history is rich with the stories of countless people who’ve had an impact on the university and in the broader community. Over the course of 2023, we’ll feature mini stories about 150 MSVU students, faculty, staff and alum. Check back often to meet more amazing MSVU people!