Degree Interrupted: From Foster Care To College

This is the first essay of our three-part series, “Degree Interrupted,” in which Youth Radio reporter Brooke Reotutar interviewed college students who had non-traditional paths to higher education. Today’s story comes from 23-year-old Yajaira Reed, a student at Palomar College in San Marcos, California.

Growing up in foster care, I bounced around different homes and had to mature faster than most children my age. The only time I felt like a normal kid was at school.

My life was scattered and messy. My most stable time was living with a family from age 4 to 13. Sadly, they moved out of state and I was forced to stay behind. From then on, I was tossed around group homes and attended various elementary and high schools. I didn’t stay in one place longer than six months.

When I hit the age of 18, around the time most teens prepare to go to college, the group home I was living in gave me a tote bag, packed up my stuff and dropped me off at a bus stop.

I was homeless and spent countless nights crying. Stated plainly, I was scared. However, I was determined to find work and somehow attend a university. I badly wanted to go to school, but being homeless made it difficult for obvious reasons. I slept in trolley stations and clean places to avoid getting mugged. All the while, I thought about my future and what that would look like.

After a lot of hustling, I landed a job and found a friend who offered me a place to stay. I was able to work and prepare for college. After a couple years, the foster care system underwent reforms and began housing programs, thank goodness. These programs assist former foster youth, like me, with transitioning to their own housing after they reach adulthood. Because of this, I was able to find a place of my own.

I am now 23 years old and am finally attending community college. I am studying at Palomar College in San Marcos, California, to be a forensic anthropologist. I run for the track team and hope to someday transfer to the University of Southern California.

I definitely feel like an old lady being a freshman surrounded by 19-year-olds, but it’s crazy to look back and see how far I’ve come.

To anyone who has experienced hardship or trauma, my advice is to be nice to yourself. I realize now, there is no shame in telling my story. Everyone grows up from different backgrounds. What truly matters is what we choose to do with our lives, today.

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