Graduation Reflection

Moments like this tend to stir up emotions which in turn usually lead to times of deeper reflection. 

Milestones (life events) lead me back to the beginning. I’ve been taught to never forget one’s roots, and to take pride in small humble beginnings. 

My story (like your story) is not only what you remember but how you remember or simply experienced those memories. Never be afraid to share because each of us has a unique voice and perspective that others need to hear. 

This month (May) is foster care awareness month. This is the appropriate place to begin; I went into foster care around the age of 9 years old, as did my younger brother – he was not even a year old.  

As of 2020, there are approximately 424,000 foster youth nationwide. 

We spent between 6-7 years in the system or as someone once made clear… we were referred to as: “ward’s of the state.” Apparently,  “A foster youth typically spends just under two years – 20 months – in foster care.”

I lived in more than 20 different homes during that time. I know what it’s like to be homeless, to stay in a homeless shelter with my mom and baby brother. Words cannot convey the feelings but it does help to try and write and/or talk about it. 

“In comparison to veterans, former foster youth are twice as likely to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

We have been rejected by foster families because of my pet allergies. I’ve witnessed grown men (foster parent) hit my brother out of frustration which led to me confronting said individuals. 

Learning to project no fear while confronting adults while truly being scared was something I had to learn early. My environment forced- really demanded that I become different for the sake of survival.  

“Foster youth are seven times more likely than non-foster youth to have Depression, and five times more likely to have Anxiety.”

We were required to constantly attend therapy during the entire time in the system. Looking back, I now understand why. It made a significant difference though I didn’t understand and realize at the time. 

Much of my experience in the foster care was dehumanizing in various ways. There was no real connection. Many times you were one of many foster children. I remember feeling like I didn’t really belong. Lots of lonely nights crying. During holidays, your gifts were ‘different’ than those that made up the ‘real’ family. 

As I reflect on my childhood in light of my recent achievements. It’s unexplainable… I somehow made it through school. Yes, through 8th grade and into HS. I was the first in my family to graduate HS. 

“Just over half – 51 percent – of all foster youth graduate high school.”

That’s just the start. Check it. The following facts demonstrate the odds I overcame and only a small percentage of other foster kids overcome. 

  1. Just one out of every five foster youth is at grade level in English and language arts in third grade, and only 9 percent are at grade level in math in eighth grade.
  2. Less than one in four foster youth enroll in college.
  3. By age 26, just 4 percent of former foster youth had successfully obtained a bachelor’s degree.

None of what I have been able to do in my short life would have been possible without my family and faith; My mom, all my aunts, uncles and cousins. My first real mentor and cousin: Benny Salas helped alter the course of my life.  

I learned from everyone’s example. I learned from both mistakes and achievements. I’m thankful. 

I’m filled with gratitude because my life (and experiences) that lead to this moment have been rough, dark, lonely and devastating – there’s quite a bit more that shall remain untold for now- I chose… I fought to overcome. I used it as fuel. I would not become another statistic. 

I was not going to become another inner city minority from Chicago that became ensnared by the streets. I refused to submit to my environment. I never felt comfortable following the crowd. Still don’t. 

For those that don’t know part of my story. Here is some of it. I went on to enroll and graduate from college which happened in the Spring of 2008. At each milestone, I pause and reflect but I pause and reflect often. That introspection is significant but there must be action that follows. The lack of self awareness is a huge problem for many. 

I’ll finish with this. I’m beyond grateful to my wife Robin because she supports me and has my back no matter what. 

She has allowed me pursuit my interests while providing space and opportunity for me to figure out this thing called life. I wouldn’t want to do this thing called life with anyone else but her! Love you Robin Wickert. 

Learn more about children in foster care here:

29 Surprising Foster Care Facts