When the class of 2016’s senior speaker application deadline was extended, Grand Rapids Mich., native Candace Cullens had her friends urging her to apply. She was hesitant at first, but the “bugs” her friends had placed in her ear eventually got the best of her. She filled out the paperwork, wrote her speech and auditioned in front of a board of three staff members and five students.
Now, to her surprise, she will be giving her speech at this year’s commencement ceremony.
Cullens wanted the speech to center around her fellow classmates and everything they went through. “It’s weird to put four years into a five minute speech and put an umbrella over the big things that we’ve done,” said Cullens. Eight semesters of accomplishments, strides, obstacles, college developments and community work all had to be condensed down into five minutes passing.
Cullens’ time at Albion has been as busy as her graduating class’. With a psychology major, human services concentration and a minor in Spanish, she founded, developed and lead the College-run mentoring program at Albion’s public school. She also ran the Peer Educators program on campus while balancing her time with Kappa Alpha Theta and Gamma Sigma Alpha, the Greek honorary fraternity.
While all of these experiences at Albion are reflected in her speech, it was her time working with the community and children that was most impactful. Connections between college and community like the peer mentoring program were not only important to her but to her class as well. Looking back from her freshman year in 2012 to now, the college and community connection has grown tremendously. Now, she can’t imagine Albion College without the city. “I think that’s a big piece,” said Cullens, “making those connections and strengthening the bonds with each other at the college and taking that outward.”
As Cullens speaks to her class on May 7, she has many inspirational people to look back upon. She has her mother to thank as well as Pam Schuler, associate director of service and leadership, for her advice and assistance with the mentoring program. Before she pursues a master’s in social work at the University of Michigan in the fall, however, Cullens’ first plans are to take some well-deserved time to relax after graduation.