McMaster University

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McMaster valedictorian overcame eating disorder, wants to inspire others

Published: June 9, 2015
Marina Abdel Malak
Marina Abdel Malak is valedictorian for her McMaster University nursing class of 2015.

Marina Abdel Malak overcame an eating disorder that nearly killed her and published a book about her ordeal to inspire others. Then she became valedictorian for her McMaster University nursing class on June 9.

The Mississauga native, 22, was one of 466 students graduating from the McMaster Mohawk Conestoga Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN) program at the Hamilton Place convocation.

Abdel Malak’s book, Recipe for Recovery, details her battle with anorexia. She said having it published last year is her biggest accomplishment so far.

"I wanted to use my experiences in battling an eating disorder to help others, to break the stigma associated with illness, and to inspire others to achieve their dreams," says Abdel Malak. The illness began when she was in Grade 9, and involved weeks spent in hospital when her organs began to fail from the self-starvation. She has been recovered for the past four years.

"There were many times throughout my life when people, including me, didn’t think that I would survive, be successful, or live a happy, healthy life. I defied the odds when I picked myself up and remained determined to pursue my dreams, even in the face of adversity."

Abdel Malak says her mother, father and sister are her greatest inspirations. Her parents immigrated to Canada from Egypt and both had to redo their degrees here in order to work in their respective professions. At the same time they were paying off their student debts and raising their two girls. Abdel Malak says her parents raised them "to be grateful for the simplicities of life, to persevere despite obstacles and to remain true to ourselves."

Her older sister, Nansy, has also helped her during rough times.

"There are days when I feel like giving up, but Nansy's courage and passion remind me how rewarding it is to fight for my goals," says Abdel Malak.

Her mother always says "health and happiness go hand-in-hand," and this is something Abdel Malak takes to heart.

"My undergraduate degree, and all my life experiences, have taught me that when I am healthy — physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally — I can achieve whatever I set my mind to."

While at McMaster, Abdel Malak received the Dr. Harry Lyman Hooker Scholarship, the Edwin Marvin Dalley Memorial Scholarship and the Yates Scholarship. She believes giving back to McMaster is important.

"I have tremendous respect and appreciation for individuals who give back to the McMaster community in any way, and I would love to be able to do the same," said Abdel Malak.

"One’s alma mater is like a second home — it is where we have spent years studying for exams, cramming in assignments, participating in sports or clubs, forming friendships and making memories. To be able to show appreciation for this by giving back to support future generations is both empowering and edifying."

Abdel Malak will start the medical school program at the University of Toronto in August.

In addition to the nursing degrees, the convocation saw degrees conferred on nursing masters and medical radiation science students at the 9:30 a.m. ceremony.

An honorary Doctor of Science degree was conferred at the ceremony on Judith Shamian, a researcher, educator and international leader in the field of nursing who has been described as one of Canada’s most powerful women.

A professor at the University of Toronto’s School of Nursing and president of the International Council of Nurses, Shamian was president and CEO of VON (Victorian Order of Nurses) Canada for eight years after serving in a series of key leadership positions, including executive director of nursing policy for Health Canada, president of the Canadian Nurses Association, and vice-president of nursing for Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.

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