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‘More than a degree’: Graduation takes on special meaning for family after loss

By Ashley Kewish, KSL TV | Posted - Apr 26th, 2019 @ 10:00pm



PROVO — Friday was graduation day for students at Brigham Young University. It’s a time of celebration for a job well done and the culmination of years of hard work.

However, for one family, the day was bittersweet. There was one diploma handed out on Friday that carried with it some heartache.

It’s the sound of success as "Pomp and Circumstance" lightly flowed through the air at the Marriott Center.

A signal that one chapter is closing and the future is wide open. It’s a day long awaited by BYU’s graduating class of 2019.

One graduate in attendance was unlike any other person sitting in the Marriott Center. Jennifer Hanks is receiving a diploma without ever having taken a class on campus.

“He would feel like this is more than a degree,” said Jennifer Hanks.

The “he” she is referring to is her husband, Justin.

“He didn’t want cancer to hold him back, so throughout his chemo treatments, he still worked really hard,” Hanks said.

Justin and Jennifer were only married a couple of months when the diagnosis came.

“He was the most positive person and he didn’t want cancer to hold him back,” she said.

During chemo treatments, Justin Hanks would study for tests. Instead of resting, he’d read to keep up with his neuroscience courses.

“He could’ve given up but he worked hard to move forward,” Jennifer Hanks said.

Last summer Justin Hanks passed away. On Friday, BYU recognized him with an honorary degree. To the Hanks family, it’s something that represents so much more than words on paper.


When life gets hard, it doesn’t mean we give up. We keep going and that’s the most touching thing he could show them and they’ll carry that with them forever.

–Jennifer Hanks


Justin Hanks doesn’t just leave behind a legacy of never giving up. He also leaves behind twin boys who knew their father for three short months.

“Their father was a perfect example of that in fighting and keeping to move forward,” Jennifer Hanks said.

The twin boys may not remember the time they had with their dad on earth, but they will learn so much about the life he lived.

“It’s going to mean so much to me and my sons forever,” Jennifer Hanks said as she clenched the diploma in her hands.

One short chapter may be complete, but Justin’s story is not over.

“When life gets hard, it doesn’t mean we give up,” Jennifer Hanks said. “We keep going and that’s the most touching thing he could show them and they’ll carry that with them forever.”

Jennifer Hanks talks about her family, motherhood and losing her husband on her blog.

Ashley Kewish

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