Life lessons from Cervantes 

By Barbara Black

Renaissance man Bryan Brazeau couldn’t decide whether he should do his PhD in Italian or Spanish. He enjoyed both languages, and had learned them well enough to read the monumental classics of Dante and Cervantes.

Bryan Brazeau has already learned Italian and Spanish. German and Latin are next on the agenda for his doctoral studies in New York. Magnifying glass

Bryan Brazeau has already learned Italian and Spanish. German and Latin are next on the agenda for his doctoral studies in New York.

He applied to Italian and Spanish programs at Harvard, Stanford, Yale and New York University, and was accepted at all of them with six full years of funding. Brazeau is very focused, very self-directed. He always has been.

“Cervantes said the life of a soldier and the life of a student aren’t very different, so I conducted my application process like a military campaign,” he explained. “I lined up six or seven letters from professors (only three are needed) and I told each one what I wanted from them. Then I selected a different combination of recommendations for each school I applied to, based on a variety of factors.”

His passion for the Renaissance seems to shine out of Brazeau’s diamond-blue eyes. He discovered the fabulous art and architecture of 14th to 17th century Europe on a high school trip, and persuaded his parents to send him to private Marianopolis College, where he relished the competitive academic atmosphere.

Now he’s graduating from the Liberal Arts College honours program. He loved the LAC for its heart-on-its-sleeve love of learning, its impossible reading list, its close relationships with teachers, the invitation to reach higher, dig deeper. He calls the LAC unique in Canada, almost unique in North America. He wasn’t above taking a couple of well-chosen courses at McGill, however. “Other students are shocked when I tell them they can do that.”

He discovered that Oxford University has a summer institute in Medieval and Renaissance studies, and talked them into giving him a bursary that will be passed on to future LAC students. Oxford was impressed by the concept of the College, and so were the august U.S. universities he applied to.

Despite the intense reading required for his program, his insistence on learning medieval Italian and Spanish, and reading heavy-duty classics of philosophy, Brazeau worked at Second Cup coffee shops, often 20 or 30 hours a week, throughout his school years. Quick, bilingual, adept at the coffee shop business, he worked at seven branches over the years, and earned a promotion to assistant manager at one franchise.

Eventually, thanks to the linguistic legacy of his English-speaking mother and French-speaking father, he got a job as a 9-1-1 dispatcher for the City of Montreal. It pays so well he was able to reduce his working hours. He still found time for an active student life, being president of the LAC student society for a year, and did theatre on the side. He figures his acting experience will stand him in good stead at the head of the classroom, although maybe when he’s given academics a full airing he might go into the coffee shop/bookstore business.

Having graduated with a GPA well over 4.0, he has chosen the Italian program at NYU for his doctorate because “their specialization in Early Modern Italian literature along with the atmosphere of the department in general” is the best fit for him, and he’s already given himself some assignments. He calls NYU’s graduate program in Italian studies “the LAC writ large . . . and in Italian.”

He’s already given himself some assignments for the next few years. “I really have to improve my Latin and learn some German,” he said seriously.


Concordia University