Nursing graduate to mom: 'I know she sees me and is proud of me'

Fostering Futures program student and nursing graduate Candace Mabry crosses the Commencement stage during the Friday morning ceremony at Global Credit Union Arena.

Photos by Ralph Freso /Slideshow / Spring Commencement video

College graduation is satisfying, and if you’re in nursing, it's even an incredible feat, said Candace Mabry.

“But for me, it’s the start of the rest of my life and what I was dreaming of since I was a little girl. After all that fight, all that perseverance, now I get to go off and be the change I want to see in the world and make a difference,” she said, wearing her cap and gown outside Global Credit Union Arena Friday morning.

After her mom died at 11 and her father at 16, she was lost and confused, but through faith and hard work, she got to this day. Her mom, Bobbi Mabry, was an intensive care nurse at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, Idaho, before the cancer hit.

“It’s bittersweet. I wish she was here as I’m going through all this,” she said. “But I know she sees me and is proud of me, so there are ways to honor her.”

Her way, she hopes, is helping others like her mom did, only in a hospital emergency room.

“She was in the ICU, which is more calm and collected, but I’m her little spitfire daughter, going into the ER. I can see her saying that’s where you should be.

“I love the fast pace, the energetic environment where a lot is going on, but I also love helping and supporting people in a time where they might really be unsure, just loving on them and being there for them during a time when they don’t know what is going to happen.

“It’s one of those things I understand because of my past, what it means to feel the unknown.”

Candace Mabry is congratulated by Fostering Futures Student Administrator Brandi Turner as she arrives to Friday morning’s Commencement.

Mabry’s life took a spin to the unknown after her parents divorced, followed by her mom’s death in 2014 and, five years later, her dad’s suicide after suffering from depression. At first, she pushed away from Jesus but found Him after listening to her heart.

“I remembered His faithfulness and goodness. We all face different things, trials and tribulations, but He is above it. His love and sacrifice on the cross doesn’t change. That is all we need, ultimately. … And there’s been a lot of great people at GCU.”

She earned financial support through a scholarship for students outside Arizona, funded by GCU alumnus Levi Conlow, CEO of Lectric eBikes, and administered by GCU’s Fostering Futures program for Arizona children transitioning from foster care.

Brandi Turner, Fostering Futures student administrator, became an important mentor. On Friday morning, she placed a Fostering Futures pin on her sash and gave her a long hug, whispering in her ear: “We are so proud of you.”

Mabry faced another heartbreaking moment in her first year at GCU. Her grandfather, who also suffered with depression, took his own life, part of the story she shared with incoming Fostering Futures scholars in a welcoming ceremony at the beginning of her senior year.

“I also knew in my heart I wanted a better life. There had to be something better in this world than one tragedy after another after another. There had to be more joy in life. I decided to change the narrative. I wanted my story to look different than all the things that had happened to me.”

After giving a speech to incoming freshmen in the Fostering Futures program earlier this year, Candace Mabry takes a moment before visiting with fellow students.

At GCU, Mabry became a Spiritual Life leader on campus, holding Bible study in her room. She volunteered, worked as a tutor on campus, and did clinicals at a substance abuse center. She studied hard.

“I want to make an impact and help people,” Mabry said. “Because I didn’t give up, that can be a testament when other people are struggling. It was hard, there were dark moments, but I did it. You can, too.”

Her dad always told her she was a “go-getter who was authentic and loved people … who sees the needs in others.”

“That is the gift I have,” she said earlier this month. “Today I saw a girl crying. I just went up to her and asked, ‘Can I pray for you?’ I just sat there and prayed for her. I didn’t know what was going on, but the Lord knows. Just being there and loving on her (showed) someone noticed, someone cares, you are not alone.”

Her past also informed her studies. Her capstone project was on trauma informed care, using a complete picture of a patient’s life, including past traumas and mental health, to find ways to help them, and incorporating it more fully into the nursing profession. It’s an area she wants to focus on in her professional life as she applies for hospital positions in the Valley.

“It could really be implemented across the board and be something that is a standard part of care taught to nurses,” she said. “Someone who has gone through extensive trauma is not going to think in the same way. It requires having more education and understanding on how to implement that.”

Candace Mabry waves to friends during the Friday morning Commencement ceremony.

Mabry said having a faith life will help those who face trauma but also education on managing emotions.

“Most people are taught life skills but how do you handle your emotions? Not only can you have a logical side, but you have an emotional side, and you look at both of them to make the best informed decisions. It’s teaching a lot of how to handle that emotional side of being human,” she said.

Her emotions were high on Friday morning, with brother Ethan by her side, who she helped mentor through his freshman year at GCU.

“In a lot of ways we have a trauma bond,” she said. “I have been there for him, and he has been there for me. As long as I have him, it’s good.”

Ethan, an engineering major, said to his sister before she went into the Arena: “I’m really proud of you. It’s been a long time coming, with a lot of stress, but you were able to get through it, and it shows that you are a better person.”

He wiped his eye, and they walked away together, her mortarboard saying “Nurse Candace,” the voices of the past informing each step.

“I think my mom would say she is so proud of me, that I never gave up, even when things got hard, and  I have such a bright future ahead of me,” she said. “I am going to do things that will change the world.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected]

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