Vet student sitting with white background.
The WCVM Class of 2023 has created a scholarship in memory of classmate Thizbe Balzer. Photo: Christina Weese

WCVM Class of 2023 honours student’s legacy

Thizbe Balzer’s enthusiasm for learning and helping others stands out in the memories of her classmates at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM).

“She was really bright, welcoming and friendly with everyone,” says Andrew Crookes, one of Balzer’s WCVM classmates.

Crookes says Balzer made a strong impression on other students at the veterinary college right from the beginning.

“One of the first things I remember about Thizbe was that she sat in the back right corner of the classroom, so whenever you went to exit the room, you’d always go by her,” says Crookes. “She’d smile and say hello, and it seemed like she put herself there strategically to greet everyone as they went by.”

Eager to learn and build relationships with those around her, Balzer’s strong background in music and dance helped her to quickly become involved in a variety of activities at the WCVM.

“She volunteered to sing and record a parody video for our class’s skit committee, so she really put herself out there. I think 99 per cent of the class would be scared to do something like that, but she was eager to share her passions with everyone,” says Crookes.

Balzer’s unexpected death on April 21, 2020, prompted her class to develop a tribute that would honour the 22-year-old student’s legacy.

“Immediately after she passed, many people in the class were reaching out and wanting to do some kind of memorial. We explored a number of ideas, but the scholarship was sort of the one that was the frontrunner,” says Crookes, who served as president for his class during their first year of studies at the college.

Crookes — with the help of Paige Links, manager of WCVM Student Services — gathered input from the class and Balzer’s family to determine how an award would reflect her traits and values.

The result of those efforts is “The Class of 2023 Memorial Award in Memory of Thizbe Balzer,” a $2,500 annual scholarship that recognizes “a continuing DVM student who displays joy, optimism and a desire to help others succeed.”

Nominated students in their second, third and fourth year of studies at the WCVM are invited to write a short letter that describes their experience in helping others, with the WCVM Awards Committee and the Balzer family involved in selecting a recipient.

So far, three veterinary students have received this special memorial award that’s presented during the college’s annual fall awards program: Davlynn Pedrick in 2020, Andrew Crookes in 2021, and Jessie Hellquist in 2022.

Summing up Balzer’s personality and traits into one award wasn’t an easy task for the WCVM’s Class of 2023, but for Crookes, one concept was clear in the process.

“Altruism is the word that comes to mind. You could tell that she really wanted everyone in the classroom to succeed — not just in their studies, but in social aspects as well. She gave herself to the community and wanted nothing in return.”

Crookes also highlights the importance of having members of the Balzer family involved in developing the award.

“We really wanted Thizbe’s family to be involved in the process and her brother and parents are still very involved with our class, which has been really great,” says Crookes. “Their family is still very much a strong part of our community, and we know that Thizbe would have wanted them to be involved as much as possible.”

The Balzer family will be at the University of Saskatchewan’s Spring Convocation on June 7 to accept their daughter’s veterinary degree, which will be presented posthumously alongside her classmates.

In dealing with the loss of a friend and classmate and working to establish the scholarship, members of the graduating Class of 2023 have become a tight-knit group over the past few years. Crookes believes Balzer would be proud of how strong their class community has grown.

“At the end of this year, I’ve heard from so many instructors commenting on … how connected and keen our class was to work together, and we believe that Thizbe had a huge impact on this,” says Crookes.

Visit the USask online giving site to make a financial gift in support of “The Class of 2023 Memorial Award in Memory of Thizbe Balzer.”

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