Melissa Cunningham will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Her achievement will follow years of care for people who are poor, homeless, dealing with addiction or coping with mental illness. Through the University of Southern Maine, she worked on a Bayside homeless project and spent a summer in an internship at Preble Street. “I have personally experienced poverty and the need to access social services during my childhood, and feel compelled to serve individuals who are vulnerable and have difficulty accessing adequate healthcare,” she said. “I am also an advocate for promoting dignity and respect for individuals with substance use disorder and issues of addiction, and am vocal in sharing ways to decrease stigma language in the healthcare setting and society in general.” She said she has been thankful for the university's support. Early in her freshman year, USM President Glenn Cummings surpised her by joining a classroom discussion. “This experience helped me learn that students, faculty and staff were valued and that USM is a community with many opportunities to engage in learning and a shared vision with many different individuals in varying roles.” She plans to work as an RN through the summer and begin graduate work in the fall. She plans to earn her master’s degree as a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner.