Guest blogger Angelica C. highlights her experiences in rebuilding her network following college graduation.
In December of 2016, I joined the 3% of foster youth in the United States to receive a bachelor’s degree. It was a significant accomplishment for me. I overcame obstacles along the way that made graduation seem impossible. Several people doubted my capabilities or told me I wouldn’t make it, but I walked across that stage despite it all. It was an achievement no one could take away.
While receiving my diploma was a moment full of excitement and relief, it was also the day I lost my support system. Michigan State University became my home and graduation meant that I had to leave it all behind. The transition from college to adulthood was a journey I was ill-prepared to handle. I thought receiving my degree meant I had everything figured out, but it was only the beginning.
I was scared. It felt like I was playing a never-ending game of catch up with my peers. I compared my obstacles to others who had a strong support system, and I desperately wanted to be normal. I was sick of constantly dealing with challenges that others didn’t seem to face and it was exhausting. I thought “normal” meant you had a stable support system to help with proactive decisions or emotional support. The truth was that I didn’t love myself, which lead to self-deprecating thoughts.
A year after graduation, I sank into the darkest depression of my life. I didn’t have the campus support system to pick me back up, and I didn’t have a stable family to lean on for emotional support. I felt alone and the pain was unbearable. I would complete my daily obligations only to spend the rest of my time in bed. The ambition that once carried me through graduation was gone, and I slipped into an emotional battle that consumed me for months.
Although I lost the motivation to keep going, I didn’t give up entirely. I decided to be honest with myself. Most of my life was spent in a vicious cycle of abuse and abandonment outside of my control, but that was the past and I had a wide future ahead of me. I needed to have control over my future again. While negative thoughts consumed my mental space, I wasn’t giving my body the physical nourishment or support it needed to thrive. I wasn’t giving myself a fighting chance at happiness.
Instead of sulking in my misery, I sought help and forced myself to leave my apartment. Slowly but surely, my confidence increased along the way. I channeled my pain into my advocacy work and let it become my outlet. In May of 2019, all my hard work came to fruition when I launched the first “Foster Youth Shadow Day” in Michigan’s history at the State Capitol, which was an opportunity that allowed foster youth from across the state to shadow their legislators and make their voices heard on child welfare issues and reform. It was incredible to say the least. That movement was a testament to how far I’ve come and how far I could take others along with me. It was a symbol of my comeback.
Today, I am a successful advocate for foster youth. I have a phenomenal job and hold several leadership roles in my community. While pain knocked me down during my journey, it also showed me a side of myself I didn’t know existed. The resilience and strength it took to become the person I am today brings a huge smile to my face. I wouldn’t change my trauma for anything – those battle scars made me the fearless and determined woman I am now.
To the current and former foster youth reading my story, please do not give up. The only person that can stand in the way of your success and happiness is you. If you decide to pursue a college degree, be prepared for the unique challenges graduation will bring your way. You will struggle. It will not be easy. If you embrace the difficult moments head on, you will thrive. It just takes time. Be patient with yourself and know that success cannot come without failure.
Losing the support system you’ve built in college will leave a temporary void in your heart. It will feel like you were suddenly stripped of all the resources you were once dependent on, but once you build your own community, you will feel a sense of stability you never knew existed. Seek and accept help. People will come into your life that will go out of their way to support you – don’t push them away. If someone wants to support your growth and development, let them. No one gets anywhere in life alone.
Most importantly, know you are beautiful. Your story is precious and hard-earned. Don’t let the people that tried to tear you down control your destiny, too. If I listened to them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Stereotypes do not define you, for only you can tell others who you are.
Fostering Success Michigan is a program of The New Foster Care that aims to increase access and success in higher education and post-college careers for youth with experience in foster care. Learn how you can contribute to building a holistic network that insulates (i.e., strengthens protective factors and reduces risks) the education to career "pipeline."Make a Donation