Candace Murray, a 2001 Saint Mary's graduate who now is a Catholic Charities worker in Syracuse, N.Y., wields considerable influence in her field.

Following graduation, Murray obtained a master's degree in social work. Two years ago she became a senior planner for the Central New York Health Systems Agency, providing technical assistance to dozens of programs to expand their capacity to work with HIV-infected people.

She now works for Catholic Charities in New York state, where she is the top compliance officer in the Syracuse area, ensuring that more than 30 programs follow contract requirements. "I try to work in collaboration with the programs," Murray says. "Much of my work is with Medicaid-linked programs, which have been under great scrutiny by the government lately to make sure they have paid out benefits properly.''

Murray, 30, feels her upbringing helped shape her. "I lived the early part of my life in poverty," she says. "When you grow up in low-income housing, it is a tight-knit community — with everyone having crises," Murray says. "My mother would invite other children into our home to have meals, and she would donate clothes to other families — I always saw her giving to those who had less. She instilled people with hope who had felt hopeless."

Murray's economic circumstances improved when she was in fifth grade and her mother, Valada Brim, married and obtained a nursing degree.

"My mother taught me to treat others with dignity and respect, and in her own way, she taught me we are all connected in this world," Murray says. "Despite being poor and uneducated by societal standards, she was a great example of generosity, strength and endurance."

When Murray entered Saint Mary's in 1997, she found the teaching of the Lasallian tradition "reiterated what I had learned as a child: It stresses the responsibility we have for one another to ensure we are all treated as valued citizens and that our basic needs are met."

Initially, she says, she was overwhelmed by being one a few African Americans in class. After about a year, she became angry about how different her life had been from "individuals who came from the upper middle class. But I learned I needed to translate that anger to help" others who felt like outsiders at the College, so she helped organize tutoring for other students of color.

After graduating with a bachelor's degree in child psychology, Murray received a master's in social work from Syracuse University. She and her husband, Jason, who was in her class at Saint Mary's, have a daughter, Jasmine. Murray believes her proudest accomplishment is her family.

"As a parent, I am teaching Jasmine what my mother and Saint Mary's taught me: We are one with the world," Murray says. "What happens to one matters to all. As a black female and young professional, I've had to learn that I am worthy and deserving of success, praise and admiration because I work hard and perform well."

When she tells others about her time at Saint Mary's, Murray says, "I like to tell people that Saint Mary's is where I discovered that I had an insurmountable amount of potential to impact my community and beyond."

See other Women of Influence

40 Years/One Night, a "Gaela" celebration recognizing the 40 Influential Women of Saint Mary's, will be held on Sat., Nov. 6 in the Soda Center. It begins with a cocktail reception, followed by dinner, a raffle and a silent auction. The keynote speaker will be Kristine Carlson, co-author of the Don't Sweat the Small Stuff series. Go to stmarys-ca.edu/womeninphil for tickets and more information.

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