Liberal Studies Major Beats Cancer to Graduate with Her Class
Each June, Cal Poly says goodbye to thousands of graduates who are ready to dive into careers or continue on to graduate studies and address the world’s problems with innovation, technical savvy and confidence earned through their Learn by Doing education.
Each of this year’s roughly 4,500 graduates (one of the largest classes in Cal Poly history) has a unique story of success and perseverance along with thoughts on how their university experience has shaped them as they ready to make their way in the world. Liberal Studies major Camille Chabot's story is one of perseverance against incredible odds.
Chabot, 22, has crammed a lifetime into her four years at Cal Poly while earning a liberal studies degree with the goal of becoming an elementary school teacher and, ultimately, a school principal.
For a while, the dream was in jeopardy. Two weeks before the start of her sophomore year, Chabot was diagnosed with Stage IV Hodgkin’s lymphoma — the most advanced stage of the cancer of the lymphatic system. She was 19.
Surgery, a dozen chemotherapy sessions, a relapse, and a bone marrow transplant followed. But as her hometown of Dublin, Calif., rallied around her, she remained strong with a focus that would not be undone by what had been a “little bump in my throat.”
“There were so many family and friends who told me ‘Just slow down and graduate next year. You’ll look back in 10 years, and you’ll be happy that you did,’” she said. “But honestly it was always my goal to finish with the people that I started with (in 2013). I wanted to be able to say, ‘I had cancer twice, and I graduated in four years — with a minor in French.’”
To accomplish that, she needed help. Family, friends, neighbors and a growing group of supporters came together for what started as a plan to create supportive T-shirts and evolved into #CamilleStrong, a viral crusade to share Chabot’s story, advocate for those with childhood cancer, and raise money to help other female teens facing infertility due to cancer to harvest their eggs.
“President Obama wore my shirt,” she said. “We just had this cool, awesome support group all over Facebook. It was a great community, and they were my motivators. I wanted to put on a tough face and be a positive influence because of them.”
Chabot continued with online classes — even working on a laptop computer during chemo sessions. She missed three quarters in the classroom but remained on track academically with the help of professors and advisors.
She was attracted to Cal Poly because it was just four hours from her Bay Area home and because of San Luis Obispo’s unique small-town environment, nearby beaches, and the university’s Learn by Doing approach.
“It gave me a chance to work hands-on with elementary students and grasp the California (Common Core) elementary standards and concepts,” she said. “During my second and third year, I missed several classes and three quarters, but my advisor, Dr. M. Dolores (Lola) Berber-Jiménez, and professors were very helpful and communicative. I would not be graduating on time if it were not for them.”
Chabot plans to complete her French minor in Paris over the summer and return to Cal Poly in the fall to begin the multiple-subject credential program.