Courtesy of Grace Wahlman
Grace Wahlman grew up in Lake Stevens, Washington, surrounded by nine older siblings, horses, chickens and a big, beautiful garden. When she wasn’t playing with her brothers and sisters, she would find herself writing about them. That is how Wahlman found her lifelong passion for writing.
“I can’t write out of obligation,” Wahlman said. “I allow whatever is stirring in my heart, or whatever memories that I want to talk about at that time, drive what I write.”
Wahlman remembers that her grandfather would pick her up when she was a child, sit her on his lap, look into her eyes and tell her that she was truly capable of anything.
However, other family members told Wahlman college would be a waste of time and money. It wasn’t until Wahlman’s senior year of high school that college seemed at all achievable. Because of Wahlman’s passion for education, her older sister Hayden encouraged her to attend EWU.
College continued to seem impossible until four weeks before the fall quarter of 2015, when Wahlman was finally accepted to EWU.
To overcome her childhood struggles with math, Wahlman decided to declare a major in engineering, with a minor in technical communication. She went on to become the vice president of the Women in Engineering Club, founder and president of the Astronomy Club, and vice president of the Rocketry Club.
“Most of my life I was trying to prove myself,” Wahlman said, “while chasing after something that wasn’t authentically me.”
While Wahlman was able to reach math classes as high as Calculus III, she still wasn’t satisfied with her achievements. During her junior year she decided to take a quarter off from school to rethink her goals.
For two months, Wahlman worked as an au pair in Pisa, Italy. During this time she read a book called “The Garden City” by John Mark Comer.
“‘The Garden City’ is about using your gifts that you already have and to become really good at them,” Wahlman said. “It was like a slap in the face.”
While in Pisa, Wahlman began to consider switching majors due to her lack of love for engineering.
Then suddenly on March 4, 2018, Wahlman’s brother Seth Wahlman, and his girlfriend took their lives. This tragedy would forever change Wahlman’s path, outlook and mission in life, and she realized she wanted to become an advocate for mental health awareness. Wahlman wants people to know her brother’s story so she can help fight stigmas against those with mental illness.
“I like to talk about his death because I want to spread awareness and advocate for suicide prevention,” Wahlman said.
Wahlman flew back to Washington and returned to EWU that following quarter. For half of the quarter she continued toward an engineering degree. Then, with the support of CAPS and guidance from Dr. Kate Crane, director of the EWU technical communication program, Wahlman took a leap of faith and changed her major to technical communication.
“What sticks out about Wahlman is she will do anything if she thinks it’s the best way to move herself forward,” Crane said. “She doesn’t let any opportunity go by.”
Wahlman embarked on her new-found passion for technical communication by interning for Get Lit!, the public relations firm DH and Family Promise of Spokane. She also wrote a grant for NAOMI, a non-profit transitional home for homeless women and their children, and worked as a PR and marketing assistant for EWU Alumni Relations.
“I finally started doing something I was actually passionate about,” Wahlman said.
Wahlman found working with Family Promise of Spokane one of her most rewarding experiences. Family Promise is a 24/7 emergency shelter for families experiencing homelessness. She used her love for writing to publish stories on families staying at Family Promise. Wahlman’s stories are still posted on Family Promise of Spokane’s website at https://www.familypromiseofspokane.org/blog.
“If my writing can be inspiring or spark solidarity in someone else who happens to read it, then that’s awesome,” Wahlman said. “It’s all I want.”
“She wants to use her education to help other people, like she did when working with Family Promise,” Crane said. “I’m so proud of her.”
“I love her,” Cassady Graham, a close friend of Wahlman, said. “She is the type of person where you leave a conversation feeling understood. She wants to cheer you on.”
Graham pointed out that Wahlman’s success comes partly from her willingness to engage with mentors.
“She reaches out to professors,” Graham said. “She doesn’t just go through the motions.”
Although academics are important to Wahlman, there is more to her than good grades.
“Grace is a great student and most importantly, a great human being,”said Jessica Boyer, Communication Studies Lecturer from EWU.
A typical morning for Wahlman may include talking to one of her sisters on the phone, meditating, writing a blog post or drinking tea. When not in class or writing, Wahlman can be found running, hiking, reading, hanging out in Hargreaves Hall or eating peanut butter by the spoonful.
Wahlman listens to a wide variety of music and still has all her old CDs from high school. She listens to bands such as Nirvana, Ed Sheeran, Beyonce, Chance the Rapper, Post Malone and old-school Macklemore.
Although Wahlman takes pride in her music collection, she says her biggest achievement was winning the Frances B. Huston award.
Crane nominated Wahlman for the award and praised her determination to go to college.
“It takes an extraordinary person to say I’m going to do it anyway,” Crane said.
“I am confident she will go out and accomplish incredible things- we will miss her,” Boyer said.
Now Wahlman looks back and reflects on her journey to authenticity.
“I was always really scared to be who I was,” Wahlman said. “[Now I am] a lot more myself than I have ever been in my life.”