Although Candi and Sandi Bastien grew up near Gainesville, the University of Florida seemed a world away. A very special scholarship changed that.
“Sandi! You got in! We both got in!”
Candi Bastien jarred awake her identical twin sister. It was the middle of a winter night in 2008 and she’d just discovered they both had been accepted to their dream school — the University of Florida.
It’s a night neither sister will forget. Now, almost a decade later, the twins are registered nurses at UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital. They consider themselves a package deal — with dreams of one day living right next door to each other on a shared plot of land.
“I think a lot of people don’t understand our connection,” Candi says. “We’re attached at the hip.”
Growing up in the rural town of Reddick, just outside of Gainesville, the sisters were raised by their single mother and grandmother. Neither of their parents attended college, but the twins knew they wanted to be Gators since kindergarten, when they had to choose a school’s colors to wear for a day.
But once they were accepted to UF, the twins were unsure how to turn their dreams of going to college into a cost-effective reality.
With the help of their high school economics teacher, the Bastien sisters discovered the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholarship — a program designed to assist academically talented, low-income students who are first in their family to attend college.
“We thought, ‘Oh goodness, there’s two of us,’ does she get it?” Candi exclaims, pointing to her sister, “Does she qualify because she’s three minutes older?”
After a phone call to confirm they were both eligible for the scholarship, the sisters were elated and relieved.
“Having someone out there to give both of us that scholarship was great,” Sandi says, “and we’re both very grateful,”
“and blessed,” Candi says, finishing her sister’s sentence, a common occurrence for the twins.
For every Opportunity Scholar, the program cultivates a foundation of support that ensures a smooth transition into college. From seminars and workshops teaching students how to be successful, to the dedicated staff, the program proved to be a constant presence in Sandi and Candi’s collegiate careers.
This was validated the first semester of the twins’ junior year. Sandi broke her leg, forcing her to take a leave from school and move home to recover. With the help of Leslie Pendleton, the program’s senior director, Sandi’s teachers were informed about her injury and she was able to receive more time to complete her nursing program application.
“MFOS is not just about giving students the money,” Candi says. “They are family. Leslie came to the hospital to see my sister. They want to help you succeed because they care.”
That following spring, Candi moved home to be with Sandi, and they drove to school every day, with Sandi hopping on crutches and Candi carrying her backpack.
“I think both of them, as well as so many of our scholars, have this mindset that they’re going to be successful,” says Pendleton.
Many Opportunity Scholars, like Sandi and Candi, truly value giving back to their communities, Pendleton says.
“It makes our team’s work gratifying,” she says, “Staying in touch with the alumni is something that is really important to the program.”
The sisters’ decision to pursue nursing at UF stemmed from an unbreakable bond with their family. Sandi, originally a criminology major, was inspired after witnessing the care her young cousin received while being treated for cancer at UF Health Shands.
“The nurses were so kind, and a lot of people don’t realize the impact they make in people’s lives,” Sandi says.
For Candi, it was another cousin’s diagnosis of sickle cell disease that motivated her to be more involved in her family’s care. Seeing her aunt take her cousin in and out of the hospital for treatment impelled Candi to pursue a profession in health care. She wanted to better understand, she says, and to help in any way she could.
Caring for others is what the twins love to do and what they continue to do as UF Health nurses. Candi remembers accompanying Sandi to her interview, and now the sisters say they wake up every day, happy to work for UF Health Shands hospital.
“They’re going to force me to retire,” Sandi laughs. “I’ll be on crutches, helping patients.”
If it weren’t for their Opportunity Scholarships and UF, Candi says, they would not have had the tools to succeed. The scholarship showed the sisters what they could accomplish, despite the barriers they faced while growing up. And now as mothers themselves, the Opportunity Scholars program’s ripple effect has enabled them to invest in their children’s education.
“It gives us hope so that we can break the cycle and change the future, change our children’s futures,” Candi says. “MFOS helped us believe that we could do better and it showed us what we can accomplish.”