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Claudé helps others navigate the strange new world of college

Barry McNamara
MONMOUTH, Ill. – Chandler Claudé ’20 has paid it forward.

Coming to Monmouth College in 2016 as a first-generation college student, Claudé did not have an easy time of it at first. But thanks to the help of an older student, Claudé is now poised to graduate in May with a degree in accounting and a minor in French.

Claudé has also helped other students succeed in college by serving students as an Associated Colleges of Illinois Peer Mentor. The program matches at-risk freshmen with trained peer mentors recruited from the sophomore, junior and senior classes who faced similar challenges during their first year of college.

“When I got to Monmouth, I faced many struggles, not fully understanding simple things like emotional intelligence, how to write an email to a professor, or how to develop effective time-management skills,” Claudé said in a speech that was shown at a recent virtual benefit reception for the Associated Colleges of Illinois.

Director of Multicultural Student Services Regina Johnson said Claudé is a shining example of the vital role a Peer Mentor plays at Monmouth.

“Our mentoring cohort is lucky to have Chandler as one of their mentors,” said Johnson. “He is an authentic young man, committed to helping others navigate the challenges that college may throw at them. This year he has really provided peer-to-peer tough love to everyone in the group, in addition to being a tremendous co-worker to Anna Brown ’20, my other mentor.”

A moment of serendipity

A turning point for Claudé in his college career occurred in the Monmouth cafeteria a couple months into his first semester.

“I found a friend in the caf, and we instantly clicked,” he said. “He took me under his wing and gave me great tools for succeeding in college. He wasn’t a first-gen himself, but he understood my struggles due to not having the right mentors.”

In addition to finding a friend, Claudé had found an academic role model.

“We did homework together a lot. He would text me to tell me to come to the library to get a study session in,” he said. “Simple gestures like that really go a long way in my eyes because someone is looking out for me and I appreciate it.”

Claudé soon saw tangible results.

“My first semester, I was able to get a 3.3 GPA, and I remember I was on Cloud Nine,” he said. “That was the highest I had ever received in my life. The hard work and accountability my newfound mentor gave me really started this. Today, we are still great friends and I call him just about every other week to check on him.”

Repaying a debt

Claudé, who plans to find a job in accounting and study for the CPA exam, was already motivated to do well in college thanks to a very special person in his life. Finding a mentor was the missing piece he needed to make that person proud.

“The biggest motivator for me going to college was my mom,” he said. “She always stressed education. She had to drop out of school due to having my oldest sister. That was always her biggest regret for years, and seeing that always motivated me to continue my education.”

Claudé knows his mother didn’t have an easy time of it, raising six children.

“My mom worked three jobs to put me through high school,” he said. “Most days I didn’t see her because she would work all week from around 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. I always felt the best way for me to repay my mother was to get my degree because she had sacrificed so much for me.”

Paying it forward

Claudé will get that degree in May. He’s pleased that, along the way, he’s been an influence on Monmouth students who have followed him.

“I became a peer mentor because I have learned so much about life and school and I felt that I needed to pass it on to another first-gen student,” he said. “I wanted to be a cheerleader for someone because that’s what I needed during my freshman year. Having someone hold me accountable for study and goals was important. Anyone that knows me knows that I love helping people because it brings me joy.”

Part of that joy comes from the transformations that Claudé has witnessed.

“A lot of them were shy in my first few meetings with them, but now I have a great friendship with each of my mentees,” he said “I earned their trust by sharing my story and letting them know I want to see them succeed, whether in athletics or band or, more importantly, in the classroom.”