Every time Candice Lewis stayed up all night doing school work, every time she had to miss a school event to be with her family and every time she found herself worn out juggling three children, full-time school and part-time work, she focused on why she was doing it.
“I want my children to have a better and happier life, and I had to lead by example,” Lewis, who is pregnant with her fourth child, said. “I have a daughter who is 17 and is wanting to go to college because mom went.”
Lewis is graduating this month with a bachelor’s degree in public health from Northern Arizona University. She’s the first in her family to finish college, a process that started at Coconino Community College in 2009. She finished an associate’s degree in 2016 and tried to get into the nursing program at CCC but, she said, “things kept getting in my way, so I thought maybe nursing was not for me.” Instead, she found the public health program at NAU. It was a great fit.
Lewis, who is Native American, moved from Sanders to Flagstaff in 2000. Part of NAU’s draw was the university’s work to increase enrollment among Native American students, as was her desire to stay in a community that felt like home.
During her time at NAU, she worked part-time in the medical field, which helped her in her classes, volunteered throughout the community and poured herself into her schoolwork, making the Dean’s List four times, earning the Distinguished Senior award for health sciences and joining Tau Sigma National Honor Society. She also coached her children’s football and softball teams and worked with her oldest daughter in looking for college scholarships, school opportunities and athletic recruitment options.
“Being a part of NAU is something that I have dreamt of for a while,” Lewis said. “Earning a bachelor’s degree in the field I want to work in and landing that career I have always wanted feels so amazing and unreal. I cannot believe that this is happening to me—knowing I can in the future make a difference in the world we live in.”
Like everyone else, spring 2020 added a little extra chaos to her life, and Lewis scrambled to adjust to online classes for both her and her children. But after getting used to it, she’s had more productive collaborations with her classmates, more “face time” with professors and found ways to volunteer virtually. Lewis always found ways to connect with people, said Amanda Pollitt, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Sciences and Southwest Health Equity Research Collaborative.
“Candice has a natural ability for putting people at ease, which I know will serve her well as a public health professional,” said Pollitt, who taught Lewis in a junior-level writing course. “The careful attention she puts toward her work and the people around her is just one of the things that really shines about her.”
For Lewis, who’s looking forward to a vacation and a fourth baby before she starts her job search, being at the end of this particular journey is filled with pride and relief. After the days and nights she spent wondering how she could balance everything and the times she simply had to say no, moving that tassel from right to left the day she graduates will be her proudest moment as a Lumberjack and one that was worth all the sacrifices.
“I needed to prove to myself and my family that I can do it, even if it takes forever—which it kind of has,” Lewis said. “But don’t let that be your excuse to not get a higher education. There is always a way.”
Heidi Toth | NAU Communications
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