Portrait of Winter 2023 graduate Justin Bishop

Overcoming obstacles

Student Stories
January 8, 2024
Justin Bishop, a December 2023 graduate, refused to let obstacles impede his goals.
Portrait of Winter 2023 graduate Justin Bishop
Photo of Justin Bishop and Jamie Cochran at Winter 2023 commencement
Justin Bishop paused for a photo with Jamie Cochran of the TRIO SSS program before the Winter Commencement ceremony.

Justin Bishop has been overcoming obstacles all his life. He had a rough time in high school, and wasn’t sure if he would succeed in college. But he gave it a shot, starting his criminal justice studies at Mount Wachusett Community College and then transferring to Fitchburg State.

“It was a tough transition because of COVID,” he recalled.

Bishop began his criminal justice studies with the intention of becoming a police officer, but found his interests shifting as he was exposed to other career options within the field.

All of his plans were thrown into disarray, however, just a few semesters into his studies. Bishop was experiencing severe headaches - “like my head was in a vice” - and went to the hospital. Scans showed a plum-sized mass in his brain. It was non-cancerous, he was told, but removing it would not be without risk.

“I didn’t know if I was going to live or die,” he said. “I told my parents, ‘If something happens, everything goes to my little brother.’”

His doctors told him he was likely born with the mass, and as he grew, it grew. Within two weeks, Bishop was in surgery.

The surgery was a success, but recovery was not without its challenges. He was prescribed powerful anti-seizure medications, for example, which caused him vivid nightmares. He took a semester off as he found his bearings.

As with the other challenges Bishop faced, he was determined not to surrender. “I told myself, ‘I survived this for a reason. Why should I throw in the towel now?’ I felt a drive to finish my school and better myself.”

So he got back to his studies, aided by the supportive mentors and advisors at Fitchburg State’s TRIO SSS office. “They got me more involved on campus,” he said, adding that he was encouraged to become a student ambassador to others in the program.

Now graduated, Bishop looks forward to pursuing new professional goals, perhaps as a court officer (a position he got to observe through one of his collegiate internships). He knows he is lucky to have time to find the right fit. “I’m just taking it one day at a time.”

More than 400 graduate and undergraduate degrees were conferred in December 2023.