Thirty years after leaving the foster care system, while preparing to write my book, Somebody's Someone, my editor said they needed my story corroborated. I called Contra Costa County Services to open my records and for the first time saw the words my social worker had written about me as a child: "Someone has led this child to believe that she's of above-average intelligence when this worker sees her as marginal at best." I wept when I read that. Now I compare it to what Alec MacLeod, CIIS founding core faculty of the Bachelor Arts Completion (BAC) program, wrote about me: "Ms. Louise possesses a fierce intelligence."
How did I find my way to CIIS? Twenty years ago, when I was a successful hairdresser, I mentioned to a client, "I want to finish my education"-a strange thought, as I had a terrible GPA and was not a good student. The client told me about California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). I looked it up in the phone book, found the address and drove by, even talked to an admissions counselor, but I was intimidated and let it drop.
My journey back to CIIS began a little over a year ago. I was a keynote speaker at a fundraiser at the Blackhawk Smithsonian Automobile Museum. A woman whose book I was signing said to me, "Have you ever thought of finishing your education?"
I replied, "Yes, but I'd only go to CIIS."
"I'm a professor at CIIS in the Women's Spirituality program and I'm going to recommend you," she said. The Women's Spirituality chair soon called, thinking I needed a master's degree. When she realized that I needed to finish my bachelor's degree, she recommended the BAC program, which once again was intimidating to me. But I called and spoke with an admissions counselor and she held me in such a way that I was able to address the obstacles that had kept me from taking this next step. I applied to CIIS and five other programs, some offering me full-ride scholarships, but when it came down to it, I knew CIIS was the place I needed to be.
When I heard Professor Brynn Saito speak at an orientation I was blown away! I didn't need to play small, minimize myself, or acquiesce. Here at CIIS, I gained the essential-every aspect of myself was allowed to show up in one place. The invisible became visible, a holy moment, a holy transformation for me.
I'm leaving CIIS with a full-ride scholarship to UC Riverside where I'll be pursuing a master of fine arts degree. I will continue my education, my writing, and my advocacy work as a spokesperson for children in foster care. I will work to create an integral educational curriculum for the underserved such as I've experienced here at CIIS. I will be back.