July 21, 2022

“Great Bay made me feel like I mattered,” said Murphy, who graduated this spring with an associate degree in psychology.

Brigid Emma Murphy learned many things during her time as a student at Great Bay Community College. The lesson that stood out above all others was the one about herself.

“Great Bay made me feel like I mattered,” said Murphy, who graduated this spring with an associate degree in psychology and was the Class Speaker during commencement. “At Great Bay, I didn’t feel so ashamed of myself anymore. I realized there is strength in the things I was most afraid of in myself, and I can use those as advantages.”

When she spoke at commencement, Murphy talked about the support, compassion, and care she received from faculty and staff, as well as other students, as she learned to live with depression and anxiety and thrive as a student. Prior to enrolling at Great Bay, Murphy studied at a large university and dropped out because her mental health struggles made it impossible to succeed in the classroom. When she asked for help, she was encouraged to take a leave of absence, which she did – and never returned. She blamed herself for her failures.

Her experience was entirely different at Great Bay.

“The biggest difference between Great Bay and other colleges is not the lower tuition, the smaller class sizes, the incredible work of the staff members, or the welcoming atmosphere of the students,” she said during her commencement speech. “What really makes Great Bay stand out is the way they believe in us. They make academia accessible to people like me, who may not have been able to succeed in a traditional college setting, or who know there is more than one path to success nowadays.”

When other people believe in you, it’s easier to believe in yourself, she said in an interview. Murphy, who lives in Dover, said she succeeded at Great Bay because she was able to take control of her education and self-direct her studies to meet her needs and desires.

“I realized I had a say in my own education. I had always been a person who wanted to please everybody. Until my time at Great Bay, I would do what I was told. But I have learned that when you advocate for yourself, others will help you,” she said.

With her associate degree in psychology, Murphy plans to work as a certified doula, providing pregnant women and their families with emotional, informational, and physical support during pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period. That is a time when many mothers and families struggle with depression and related mental health issues that often last their lifetimes.

It is an unusual, specialized field and Murphy worked closely with several professors to determine her academic path. She studied psychology to better understand the human condition and tailored her coursework around her career goals. Her nutrition professor, Andrea Loving, encouraged her write a final paper on the dietary needs of people who are breastfeeding. In Human Growth and Development, professor Fran Chickering endorsed her desire to write a paper about shoulder dystocia, a common birth complication. In Abnormal Psychology with Dr. Sarah Lavoie, Murphy wrote what she calls “a massive paper” on postpartum depression in the United States. This past spring, under the guidance of Dr. Aimee Huard, she conducted community-based research on stress levels for pregnant and birthing people on the Seacoast. She was so proud of her work, she handed out copies of her research paper at her graduation party and “made people read it!”

On a personal level, Murphy said the Great Bay community as a whole supported each other during Covid-19, offering free online counseling and opportunities to connect with peers and professors. When her parents died within 13 months of each other during her time as a student at Great Bay, she received academic and emotional support.

“Every professor gave me every extension I needed for my schoolwork, but they also gave me advice and consoled me and gave me wisdom during this horrible time. I felt like I was among friends and people who cared, instead of just being a face in the seat. I felt valued.”

Through it all, she thrived. She earned her degree and is moving forward into the next phases of her life, personally and professionally. Her depression and anxieties are still present, and that’s OK. For Murphy, the lesson learned at Great Bay was learning to live with them – and herself.

“You can struggle with your mental health and be successful. You can struggle with your mental health and be a productive member of society,” she said. “I felt I was not going anywhere for a while, but Great Bay helped me realize that it is fine to feel this way and you can keep on going.”