By Candace Coulter –
(Editor’s note: Georgia Gwinnett College graduate Candace Coulter recently gave this compelling speech to a Georgia Lottery sales representative meeting where she praised a motivational college teacher and the lottery-funded HOPE Scholarship that prevented her from being a college drop-out.)
When I was a child, I loved reading and learning. I would raid my aunt’s library for books, and I was always full of medical facts so my family called me “little doctor.” But as I grew older, I stopped caring about education for many reasons.
Watching my parents struggle to make ends meet weighed heavy on me. Two of my uncles were murdered on my street. And we moved a lot, staying with family and friends when we could not afford a place of our own. I attended seven elementary schools, three middle schools and three high schools. With so much instability, it was expected that I began acting out, slacking in my school work, not going to class. I even considered dropping out.
We moved from Michigan to Georgia for more stability and opportunities. Then one day in my new school’s office, I saw my mom cry after being told I would not graduate on time. I decided to make it my purpose to graduate and go to college so I could see my mother smile. She worked so hard, and went without food and sleep, so I could have opportunities she could not. From then on, I made As and Bs, took extra classes and even did work study. I graduated on time– and my mother smiled.
After graduation I was headed back to my hometown Detroit, but my mom had heard about this new college. We came to Georgia Gwinnett College for a tour, and I fell in love with its vision and potential. I wanted to be a part of it.
Of course, my high school GPA still wasn’t the best, but to my surprise, GGC gave me a chance. Even though things went well my first semester, and I had a 3.7 GPA, I still felt out of place. I planned to drop out.
Then one day after English class, my professor asked to have a word with me. I thought, “Oh goodness, what did I do wrong?” But the words she shared with me touched my soul. She looked into my eyes and said, “Candice, this is for you! College was made for people like you who crave knowledge.”
I’d never had a teacher acknowledge my academic efforts and encourage me so much, and she would be the first of many at GGC. I had planned to leave her class and never return. I heard her words play in my head over and over as I walked from A-Building to the Residence Halls. Once I reached the Library, I broke into tears and changed the course of my thinking. I was going to be the first member of my family to graduate college with a Bachelor’s Degree.
From that point on, my life changed and I sought every opportunity to make the most of my college experience. I built leadership skills by serving the Student Government Association as treasurer and as a senator representing the School of Science and Technology. I supported myself as a resident assistant and a work-study student in the GGC Office of Public Affairs. I participated in many campus activities– and it was amazing that anyone with my financial background could ever have such an opportunity. I studied Tropical Biology in Costa Rica and Service Learning in Ecuador.
I would not be the person I am today if not for my GGC family, the experience I gained there, and the financial means which allotted me such an opportunity.
My professors cared as if it were their degree I was working toward. The staff and administrators have been my cheerleaders. The student body, my fellow Grizzlies, are the hardest working students in the South and they inspire me to continuously grow. And I have.
While at GGC, a sense of self-motivation emerged within me. I was no longer doing this just to see my mom smile, although that’s still on the top of my list. I began doing it to for me as well as my entire family. I now have five younger family members attending GGC because they were inspired by how I have evolved through my experience here, and they want that as well.
On Thursday, May 14, 2015 I graduated from Georgia Gwinnett College with a Bachelor’s of Science and concentration in Biology. From here, I plan to serve in the Peace Corps and obtain a graduate degree so I can pursue a career as a Physician’s Assistant or in medical research.
Leaving this season of my life was and still is bitter-sweet. I loved that place; it was the longest I’ve ever lived in my entire life. GGC is home.
At one point in life I had everything figured out. But now, instead of ending up in a dead-end job, the possibilities are endless and I want to do them all!
From the baby who almost died of pneumonia in a homeless shelter to the woman who is living an abundant life and traveling across nations, the ceiling has been lifted off my dreams.
Thanks to Georgia Gwinnett College, the Pell Grant, the HOPE Scholarship and a lot of prayer there are no limits to me!
Thank you for being super heroes for Georgia’s youth and God Bless.