EAST LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – While thousands crossed the graduation stage this weekend at Michigan State University (MSU), one Spartan student was beating the odds while earning her diploma.

“I’ve always just felt such a special connection with Michigan State,” said Darby Walker. “It has always felt like a place I could call home one day.”

When Darby was 16, she was diagnosed with leukemia, turning her world upside down.

“I thought they were kidding. I honestly did,” said Darby. “I was like you got the wrong girl.”

It was Darby’s mother’s worst nightmare.

“The doctor came in and he started crying,” said Shawn Walker. “And it was just shocking.”

For two and a half years, Darby battled cancer at Sparrow Hospital, dealing with allergies to chemotherapy and frequent seizures.

“I stopped thinking about the future. For a really long time. Because I was just in such a fight or flight mode,” continued Darby. “The only thing I was worried about was living to the next day.”

Despite it all, Darby found the strength to keep fighting- and smiling.

“I remember this one quote when I was in the ICU that my grandfather told me and it was by Winston Churchhill,” said Darby. “If you are going through hell keep going because the only way out is through.”

Thanks to the help of nurses like Cheri Salazar, Darby made it through.

“She was so strong. And being with her from the beginning all the way to the end and watching her through her struggles but watching her succeed,” said Salazar.

On Saturday, that success was celebrated front and center.

Darby is fully recovered, and through taking classes at home, she’s now an MSU graduate.

“I’m so grateful and I’m so honored that you know I was able to push myself through and I’m really proud of myself,” said Darby.

For Shawn, the word “proud” doesn’t seem like enough.

“She’s far exceeded anything I would have ever thought for her,” said Shawn.

Darby has changed a lot since that diagnosis at age 16.

“It gave me a more grateful outlook on life and really taught me how to you know be empathetic, how to care about other people,” said Darby. “How to realize that I’m not the only person in the world.”

Darby hopes to go into public relations, and plans on interning out in Los Angeles.