Saint Mary's University valedictorian on autism spectrum shares message of hope
'It's important to me that all students have a chance to succeed, regardless of their individual barriers'
For students with disabilities, Baden Mercer has a simple message.
He believes "there's a place for everyone" in academics, especially at the post-secondary level.
"And I think there definitely has to be more of a push for people who maybe felt that university wasn't for them to maybe consider it," said Mercer, who is on the autism spectrum.
The 22-year-old from Dartmouth, N.S., was a valedictorian at a recent Saint Mary's University faculty of arts convocation. He graduated with a double major in religious studies and political science.
Mercer got his autism spectrum disorder diagnosis when he was 10. He took part in learning centre programs at school and said the condition didn't really impact him scholastically.
For his valedictory address, Mercer talked about a slogan used by the university — World Without Limits.
"I wanted to use that as kind of a motivation for how I can tie into the fact that I'm a person with a disability, and what kind of limits can we break knowing that we can make it more accessible?" he said.
Mercer credited the on-campus Fred Smithers Centre of Support for Students with Disabilities for helping him. Mercer used the space to write exams, but it also offers other services, such as help with employment skills and study skills workshops.
"They're just a really welcoming environment," he said. "There's always someone to talk to."
Mercer will be returning to Saint Mary's this fall to begin a master's degree in religious studies. He hopes to become a professor or a lawyer.
Jamie-Lynn Black is the post-secondary autism supports director at Autism Nova Scotia.
"People like Baden Mercer, who are passionate advocates for people with disabilities, are making an impact in their community and showing that students who face barriers can and do succeed," she wrote in a statement to CBC News.
'I'll continue fighting for that'
Mercer said students with disabilities should always have someone to turn to if they are struggling at university.
"It's important to me that all students have a chance to succeed, regardless of their individual barriers," he said. "I definitely think that there's always an accommodation that could be made, even if the administration says there's nothing.
"There's always something that can be done to ensure that every student has the same access to academic success. And I'll continue fighting for that, even long after my graduation."