Candice Fullard graduated from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette this spring as a Bachelor of General Studies major, having completed her degree as an online student.
When she walked in cap and gown to accept her degree, it was the culmination of years of endurance and resolve.
“I wanted to finish at UL Lafayette, because it’s where I started,” she says. “Here I am.”
Making a Promise
Fullard, 37, now of Clarksville, Tennessee, came to the University as a first-time freshman from Baton Rouge in 2002.
While many of her friends and classmates stayed around the capital city for college, Fullard knew she wanted to branch out a little farther but remain accessible to her mother, who was seriously ill.
“I wanted to be where I could feel like I was away, but if something happened with my mom, I could be back immediately,” says Fullard. “Not only was UL Lafayette a really good school, but it fit those criteria, as well.”
Fullard enrolled as a double-major in theater and public relations, with a minor in sociology and in dance. She wanted to be an entertainment publicist.
“I wanted to be the person that made people famous,” she says. “But you know, that’s something that life just didn’t have in the plans for me.”
Fullard threw herself into college life; she joined clubs, attended football games, and pledged with Alpha Kappa Alpha.
“I had the full college experience … until I didn’t,” she says.
Every plan, goal, and aspiration came to a halt after Fullard survived an assault.
“It completely rocked my world. It broke me,” says Fullard.
The fallout was immense and devastating.
The stress and trauma took its toll until she had to withdraw from classes.
“In the midst of all of that, my mom was getting sicker, and I just never could get back,” says Fullard.
Time marched on and eventually Fullard did, too, becoming a licensed pharmacy technician.
In 2015, Fullard’s mom wanted to leave Louisiana for Tennessee to be closer to family. Fullard moved with her and was there, along with her aunt and her godson, when her mom passed away.
“One of the promises I made her, was that I would finish my degree,” says Fullard.
Taking back her path
It was always Plan A to finish her bachelor’s at UL Lafayette, but Fullard didn’t have a plan of action until her aunt spoke up.
“It was my aunt who told me it could be possible. She was like ‘It’s 2020, you can go to school online.’”
Fullard reached out to the University and began the process of re-enrolling.
By Spring 2021, Fullard was back on track and ready to flex.
“I’m fighting to graduate with a 3.0 GPA, because when I apply for grad school, I don’t want my gap in education taken as a negative,” she says. “They will see not only did I come back, but I busted my butt.”
Fullard’s hard work is ultimately not for herself, but so she can help people in need.
“I want to be a victim’s advocate, so I’m going to get my master’s in social work. I would love to work in a VA hospital or mental health hospital,” she says. “Once a patient has been diagnosed, I want to help come up with the program and treatment plan for healing from things like PTSD, battle trauma, and sexual trauma.”
Facing down her insecurity
As determined as she was to succeed, online learning was still an intimidating challenge.
“I have ADHD, and I worried I wouldn’t have the attention span or the discipline to do online,” she says. “It’s a lot. You definitely have to find the time, especially as an adult with real life going on.”
Part of her real adult life — helping take care of her godson — became part of how she made online learning fit into her daily life.
“My godson was in virtual school too, so in the mornings, I’d be at the table doing my homework while he was doing his and it was just easier that way. He called it our school time, and so, if I tried to sleep in, he’d be there like ‘Get up, we have school time!’”
There was someone else in Fullard’s corner to cheer her on or tell her to get it together, too.
“Dr. Gail Bonhomme: she was more than just my advisor; she’s been my guardian,” says Fullard. “One of the things I’m most excited about coming to town to walk [in graduation], is I get to meet her in person.”
Fullard also was moved by how online faculty have created a culture of care and commitment to the students, no matter where they live.
“[UL Lafayette Online] is a small family, but the commitment they have to make sure that the online students are taken care of is really great.”
By her side, always
Fullard has a strong network of loved ones who cheered for her in person at Commencement as they did throughout her studies.
“My friends all encouraged me when I wanted to give up,” she says. “Knowing my family and friends were watching me and believed in me helped when I wanted to give up or became frustrated. It kept me going.”
And though her mother was not in the audience, she was still a part of the Fullard's big day.
Fullard customized the tassel to her mortarboard with a photo frame of her mother, so as she walked to receive her degree at long last, her mom was with her at every step.
The best time to believe in yourself, your abilities and your dreams is right now. Find out how you can complete your bachelor’s degree in General Studies online through the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.