Yvonne (Goudreault) Caaml Canul ’73 encourages all women to find their passion and stand up for what they believe in. For Yvonne, her mission is social justice.
As current Lansing School District superintendent and with more than 40 years in education, Yvonne’s top priority is to provide equal educational opportunities to all students. And, as a female leader who has overcome many obstacles herself, Yvonne strives to break gender stereotypes, advocate for women’s rights, and empower women of all ages to develop their leadership skills.
Recently, Yvonne served as a facilitator and mentor to young women as part of the Olivet College ATHENA International Women’s Leadership Program, and on March 2, she will be a part of the Olivet College Alumnae Panel at Cultivating Women Leaders: Pioneering the Future. Her message to young women: If you believe in a cause, advocate fiercely for it.
The Foundation of Social Justice
Born in Michigan, Yvonne was only 5-years-old when her parents moved to Latin America to work with the United States Foreign Service. She remembers growing up immersed in different cultures and languages throughout Brazil, Mexico and Chile, speaking Spanish fluently and appreciating the diversity around her.
Ten years later, Yvonne and her family returned to Michigan, settling in Olivet near friends and family. Her parents each landed teaching positions – her mom as a high school teacher at Olivet High School and her dad as a professor at Olivet College who later headed the education program. She attended Olivet High School while settling into her new surroundings and felt a natural connection to Olivet College.
“What I loved about Olivet and what I found to be a benefit of being at Olivet was the one-to-one relationships with professors,” Yvonne explained. “I got to know them and they got to know me, so there was a factor of trust. There also was a culture to develop lifelong relationships between the students on campus. If Olivet hadn’t been the get-to-know-your-students type of place or had I gone to a larger university, I never would have had many opportunities.”
Yvonne majored in theater and speech, focusing on behind the scenes technical work that accompanies productions, like script writing, lighting and directing. As an upperclassman, Yvonne realized rather than work in production herself, she wanted to become a theater teacher, inspired by the positive experiences she had with professors at OC.
While identifying her passion to teach was a significant part of her college journey, Yvonne says it was a commitment to social justice instilled in her at Olivet College that created an everlasting impact on her personally and professionally. “More than anything I loved about Olivet was its relationship with social justice. When I came to Olivet College in 1969, there was a lot of turmoil in the country, but my experience was that everyone was equal. It was great because the campus was so diverse. There was so much rich social justice history at Olivet, like being one of the first colleges to educate women, that it made me proud to attend. I am a still a very proud graduate,” Yvonne emphasized.
Taking Advantage of Privilege
After graduating from Olivet College in 1973, Yvonne launched her career working as a translator in the county court system for the Michigan Department of Human Relations before transitioning to work in a variety of roles with the Lansing School District over 27 years. In 2003, Yvonne began a new role for the Michigan Department of Education and even moved to Atlanta, Georgia to serve in corporate education before returning to the Lansing area. She says her career path finally came full circle when she took over as Lansing School District superintendent in 2012.
Regardless of Yvonne’s role, she remained committed to serving in an urban environment and diverse communities, with a special focus on creating a positive impact on vulnerable children. She recognized that her own privilege had given her the chance to make a difference in the world where privilege did not exist.
“I lived in a very privileged environment within the U.S. Embassy while growing up, but saw people who weren’t privileged,” Yvonne explained. “If I hadn’t come to Olivet College, I don’t know if I would have been instilled with a passion for helping those less privileged. Being part of a community of social justice sparked something in me that helped me understand my purpose on earth. I had all these experiences in a privileged environment, and asked myself, now what are you going to do with that privilege? That’s the person you make yourself. Make yourself a person who takes advantage of that privilege and helps others who are less privileged.”
Leadership Succession Planning
It’s experiences like this that inspire Yvonne to mentor future leaders, striving to be the force in their lives that pushes them to Be More and Do Good. In her role as superintendent, Yvonne has the opportunity to mentor young men and women every day, but she goes a step beyond. She serves in a global mentoring program at Michigan State University for international students, and jumped at the chance to join the Olivet College Women’s Leadership Institute Advisory Council.
“I want to be part of a movement that does a better job mentoring young women into key areas, and I want to give back in whatever way I can,” Yvonne exclaimed. “I want to give back my personal energy and I want to help the next generation become successful leaders – it’s all about succession planning!” Yvonne stressed that she hopes to teach women the importance of hard work and self-advocating to reach their goals, in addition to helping them understand the damaging impact self-aggrandizing and boasting have on their success.
Cultivating Women Leaders
Yvonne is counting down the few short days until Cultivating Women Leaders and is looking forward to reconnecting with students in the Women’s Leadership Institute. She’s also excited to learn from keynote speaker Martha Mayhood Mertz, founder of ATHENA International, recognizing that you’re never too old or too young to build your leadership skills.