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Graduate breaks new ground

June 16, 2008

Graduate breaks new ground

It’s been a whirlwind four years for Candice Hughes ’08.An international student from Trinidad and Tobago, Hughes participated in theater and Dance Ensemble, held leadership roles in the Diversity Center and ASPLU, and spearheaded the first campus Caribbean Carnival in February 2006. She even fit in a semester studying away in Botswana. At Spring Commencement 2008, the geosciences major capped off her university career as the senior class speaker. Her graduation also marked a milestone for PLU: Hughes is the first graduate of a recent agreement program between PLU and the University of the West Indies.

When Hughes came to PLU as a freshman in 2004, she was the first Trinidadian student supported by the agreement program. It provides four-year scholarships, funded jointly by PLU and the Trinidadian government, to a select few students from the island nation each year. Currently, the program supports six students at PLU.

“I came to PLU as girl from Trinidad,” she said. “And I’m leaving as a world citizen.”

Her commencement speech was addressed to her mother, who died six years ago from cancer. In it, she reflected on her time at PLU, her experiences in Botswana and where she’ll go from here. She charged her classmates to carry on the legacy of PLU.

“Take your bag of PLU experiences and put them on your back,” she said. “Do with it what you can, make with it what you like and create a masterpiece that is worthy of a global citizen.”

Both her time in Botswana and on campus have transformed her, Hughes said. It was a difficult transition, coming from her sun-soaked Caribbean island to the sunshine-challenged and significantly colder Pacific Northwest.

“Being at PLU for me has been a whole different experience – the food, the culture, the weather,” Hughes said. “It was tough at first, but the support I received was tremendous.”

With support from peers, faculty and staff, Hughes found ways to express herself, share her culture and discover her passions. She connected with other international students and guided subsequent Trinidad and Tobago students when they came to campus.

“PLU is a forum to be who you are, meet people, discuss diverse issues and discover our community,” Hughes said. “This notion of service and care extends beyond the classroom.”

The Diversity Center turned out to be one of the best outlets for Hughes to express herself. Through it, she organized the first campus carnival, now an annual event. The carnival is an important event to hold, she explained, because it reaches the 60 percent of PLU students who aren’t able to study away and exposes them to the food, dance and history of Trinidad and Tobago.

In her own study away experience, Hughes spent a month researching the environmental impact of copper and nickel mines in Botswana’s villages. During the rest of the semester, she and 16 students from across the nation, lived in local villages, learned the San language and went on safaris.

“I was able to cross the boundary of being an observer to being a participant,” she explained. “The best experiences of life are not in photos – they are in talking, interacting with the people.”

More information about Spring Commencement 2008 can be found here.