An Edmonds CC student was awarded the Washington State Association of College Trustees (ACT) 2019 Transforming Lives award for her courage and determination in overcoming significant barriers to obtaining higher education.
“I am honored to receive this award,” said Michelle Grunder. “It’s been a long journey toward earning my degree, but I knew education would be critical to creating stability for my family and helping us out of poverty.”
Grunder was one of 34 Transforming Lives awardees from across the state. She also had the special distinction of being chosen as one of five keynote speakers for the Jan. 21 award ceremony in Olympia. and received a $500 scholarship from ACT.
Over the past few years, Grunder has been on a journey to reclaim her life and her family. She is a single mother of six who escaped a violent sex trafficking ring and a life of addiction. She uses her story and gift for connecting with others to help other women find a way out.
“I want to reach women and particularly young teens and girls before they need addiction counseling, before the gangs try to traffic and profit off of them,” Grunder said. “I want to prevent this from happening, not treat it.”
Grunder graduated in 2018 with an associate’s degree in Health and Human Services and a 3.77 GPA. She is now taking prerequisites to enroll in the college’s Child, Youth, and Family Studies applied bachelor’s degree program.
She currently works in the field at an agency that provides children and family services, adult supported living, and community and employment services and recently received its Values of Excellence award. Grunder also regularly staffs a local drop-in clinic for women in need to give resources, a few toiletries, and lend an understanding and listening ear.
“I will not allow anyone to define me by my past, but I will use my story to empower me and others,” Grunder said. “I’m an open book, but my story is not for everyone. It’s for those who want to help and empower others.”
“Michelle’s efforts to stand as a role model and give back to the community despite tremendous adversity are a testament to her strength,” wrote the Edmonds CC Board of Trustees in their nomination letter.
ACT created the Transforming Lives Awards program in 2012 to recognize current or former students whose lives have been transformed by pursuing higher education at a community or technical college. Other 2019 keynote speakers were Arma Carneh, Bates Technical College; Esmeralda “Vita” Blanco, Clark College; Joseph Barboza, Olympic College, and Rachel Himmelman, Skagit Valley College.