Overcoming Statistics: How I got my HS Diploma

I have a secret.  It's a deep, dark secret that I have carried with me for 17 years.  One that I do not like sharing for fear that I would be judged. 

I'm a high school drop out.

There.  My secret is out.

I've hesitated about writing this post, but I feel that the information I can provide to others in my position far outweighs my fear of shame and embarrassment.

The statistics of former foster children are staggeringly against their favor.  I found this excerpt from a website called Headquarters of Hope:

"A study conducted by The League of Women Voters found that 40-50% of former foster youth became homeless within eighteen months of exit from foster care. 

In studies by the Casey Foundation, former foster youth have shown twice the incidence rate of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) than that of U.S. war veterans.

Another Casey study, found that 70% of teens who emancipate from foster care report that they want to attend college, but less than 50% complete their high school graduation and fewer than 10% of who graduate from high school enroll and college, and of those enrolled less than 1% graduate from college.

Lastly, a study conducted by the Chapin Hall Center for Children found that 25% of former foster youth will be incarcerated within the first two years of emancipation.

Although these statistics are shocking and paint a dismal future they don’t even come close to detailing the despair and hopelessness experienced by many former foster youth post-emancipation."

Those are pretty upsetting statistics.  I am proud to finally say that I have been fortunate enough to avoid all of those circumstances, except the statistic about education.  Until now.

The story behind me dropping out of high school is this:

I was in foster care.  I moved 8 times just in the time I was in high school.  During one of my placements, I was back at Hillcrest waiting for a home to open up.  With my history of bouncing from home to home and poor bonding, I was stuck in a temporary placement for several months.   This hindered my advancement.   I later reunited with my family over the summer and moved in with my Grandfather who lived out of state.  This happened over the summer.  When we went to register for school, they told me I had missed too much school to even be allowed to go.  I would have to take night courses to make up for the time missed, or go to an alternative high school.  I was so frustrated.  I loved school and having friends.  I felt robbed.  I was angry and decided to take some time to think things through.  I ended up getting a job at a hotel (in Vegas) and the pay and benefits were great so I decided to keep working.  In the process, I discovered that checking "High School Graduate" on my application worked well for me because no one ever really checked.

So I went through life as a self proclaimed High School Graduate.  It worked well for me. No one judged me for being a drop out and I felt justified for lying about being a graduate because I was essentially robbed.  I didn't willfully drop out, (I did) I really didn't have a choice (I did).

Even now, admitting that I did willfully drop out, and that I had a choice is hard.  I want to stick up for myself.  I want to say it wasn't my fault.  The only thing I can say in my defense is that at the time I did not know my options.  I did not know I could get my GED.  I did not know I could go to Adult Ed and get my diploma.  I pretty much assumed that if I didn't go to night school or alternative high school, that I would not be able to graduate. 

So life went on.  I worked.  I got married.  I had three sons.  A family of my own.  Life was good.

For the past 3 years I have been a stay at home mom.  Not too long ago, I decided that it would be better for my family to go back to work.  I would like to bring in some income and help pay off debt.  I would also like to have my toddler socialized with peers his own age.  I also miss having a rigorous schedule, as we all seem to function better that way. 

I came across an awesome job opportunity.  It is in the medical insurance field and I know that is one area that hasn't been hurt by the economy.  I was really excited about this job, and I got it!!  Yay me!!

Then, they checked my schooling.  I found myself having to come face to face with that deep, dark secret I had tried so hard to forget.  It was awful to have to go to this wonderful company and admit that I had lied to them.  I am not that kind of person.  But yet, I was.

The funny thing about this experience is that this job literally was an answer to a lot of my prayers.  The pay was more than I have ever made in the past, the company is a place where I can grow and learn, they give you full paid training and expect training to take well over a year.  I would have had 3 weeks paid vacation, full benefits, and so much more!   I felt all along that God was helping me.

So why didn't I get the job? 

Would God have wanted me to lie?

So I came to the realization that I needed to do it His way.  I looked into getting the GED.   I went to a local college here and attended the orientation for the GED.  Here is what I learned:

The orientation is 8 hours long, broken into 2 days where you do pretesting and figure out where you are for taking the test.

The test is $60.00 and is broken into subjects.

If you fail a part of the test you have to retake it, but you wait 90 days before you can retake the test.  You also incur the fee for that portion of the test again.

(The GED rules and fees are different with every state)

I did very well in most subjects but I needed help with my math.  The college has a learning library where you can go and study, and there are 2 tutors who walk around and help people with their work.  This is a free service.  It sounded great, except for the few times I went to the library, there was a lot of people there and it was hard to get one on one attention.  I needed a lot of help in Math and I found myself more frustrated because I felt like no one could really help me.

I bought booklets, and did work with a CD program from home.  Still, I wasn't getting it. 

Frustrated, I'd put the books away and quit for a few weeks, then pull them out only to be more confused. 

I wanted to bang my head against the wall.

One day, when I was driving by the local high school and the thought occurred to me that there may be some program through the school district that allows high school students who have not finished school to get their diploma.  So I called and left a message with the principal.  Within a day, he returned my call and told me that indeed, there is a program through the Adult Education classroom.  He connected me with the teacher there and I agreed to meet her the next day.

During my meeting with the teacher, I was in tears.  They were happy tears.

The program was free, in exchange for 8 hours of community service.
I could take work books home and work on the pretests and worksheets there.
After looking at my transcripts, I had plenty of credits in Math so I did not have to worry about that subject.
I could easily be a graduate within a matter of weeks.

I couldn't believe how easy this all sounded.

I worked hard to complete all the tasks.  I only spent a couple hours each day going through the books at home, and a few hours each week at the school taking tests.  One by one, the subjects got checked off and I had passed with flying colors. 

One day I received a text from my friend who works at the company where I had applied for a job.  The same position that I had applied for was opening up.  She told me her boss had asked if I had completed my schooling yet.  I had only 2 more tests to take and I would be done.  I thought how amazing the timing was!

I completed my tests, did my community service at the local Goodwill and was a graduate the following week!

I finally did it!!!

And, it was easy!

Which was kind of sad.  I mean, I had let all this time pass.  17 years!  I could have done this a lot sooner, had I taken the time to look into it instead of pretending it wasn't an issue.

Based on my experience, I would hands down recommend trying to earn your diploma over taking the GED.  Having a diploma is looked at more favorably by employers and if you want to join the armed forces, you need to have a diploma.  

The GED is also a great option, but I felt much more comfortable in the adult education setting.  I had a teacher on hand to answer my questions and work with me when I got stuck.  I also didn't have to pay any fees to get my diploma.

So if you are an adult and you haven't graduated High School, no matter how old you are, I recommend looking into your local high school for information on how to obtain your diploma.  All they need is your information so they can look at your transcripts.  Once they have your transcripts, they will tell you what you need to do in order to complete your credits.  Even if you missed 2 or 3 years, it will not take long to earn your diploma.  Just a little drive and determination!

If getting your GED sounds more appealing, you can check with the local school district or college to find out what you need to get started.

I highly recommend that you look into both options and choose the one you are most comfortable with.

On another note, if you are a former foster youth, and you are less than 25 years of age, there are scholarships available to you!  So get on this!!  You don't want to be like me at 35 and wondering why there are no scholarships for people my age! 

Here are some sites that are helpful for finding scholarships if you are a current or former foster child:

Kids Matter (in Milwaukee, WI) has info on finishing and continuing your education
United Friends of the Children has a great list of scholarships available and how to qualify
Fostering Change has a list of scholarships for San Diego and CA based foster children.
CollegeScholarships.org has a list of scholarships available nationwide
Michigan.gov (Foster Youth In Transition) has a list of scholarships available to african-americans (Nationwide)

Please google for scholarships in your area.  There are so many for foster kids under the age of 25.  A college education is a sure way to secure your future, so I hope you take the time to look into this!

Don't be a statistic!!

On the job front, I recently interviewed for the position and I am currently going through the process, hoping to get hired!  I will keep you posted!  I have a good feeling, as like I said, I think I had a little guidance along the way!

The Cloth I'm Cut From

(This moment happened a little over a year ago. I am moving the post here because this blog is dedicated to my story.)

I awoke this morning to find an email from my mother in my inbox. Normal people with normal lives would think nothing of this. In my not so normal life, this was an email from a woman who I had not spoken to in many years. A woman who has only offered me heartache and grief. Not a mother. Not my mother. At least not the mother I had always prayed for.

Dear Tammy,

I am writing this letter to you because I need to get past some things I have done and forgive myself once and for all for my inability to care for you and for giving you up for adoption. I am in therapy, and my therapist thinks this is where I should start. I agree with her. I don't expect a response from you, I just need to write this letter. I would have written it on paper and sent it ( a bit more personal I think), but I don't have your address. I’ve been carrying this heavy bag of guilt for what happened with you and other events in my life too long and it’s causing me to have emotional issues, so here goes.

When I was a teenager, I heard that my mother was going to have an abortion when she got pregnant with me. I thought long and hard about what it would have meant if she had the abortion. As a result, when I got pregnant with you, against your father's wishes and offer to pay, I did not have an abortion. All I really knew was that I was not going to have an abortion - I did not think about any other consequences.

When you were born, I was amazed, but I don't really feel like I bonded with you. That is not my fault or yours. I tried to be a mother, but I guess it wasn't really in me. I wanted to be your mother, the best mother a daughter could have. I was not, I could not. I even went to a class where they teach you how to change a diaper, feed, burp and bathe the baby. Nothing came naturally.

I spent less and less time with you when you were an infant. I was too selfish, too busy being a young adult. Of course, that made the possibility of bonding even less remote. That was my fault and I am sorry for that.

When I met Bob, I was not spending very much time with you at all. He did not like children, so I'd leave you at the sitter's. Not too long after I met him, I started doing meth and cocaine. It wasn't very long before the drugs became the most important thing in my life (except maybe for Bob, who I was also addicted to). I was guilty that I wasn't being a mother to you, but that wasn't enough to make me change.

I became more and more guilty and took you to give you up for adoption. I was a failure. In a week, I decided I hadn't given it all I had to try to raise you, so I brought you back home. I tried again, and I failed again.

If Bob did molest you (which, as you know, I don't believe he did because he was never alone with you, although, being a meth and cocaine addict, I could sleep for days on end, and I suppose something could have happened), that would mean I was even a worse mother. How could anyone let that happen to their little baby girl? If it did happen at my house or at a babysitter I left you with (which is what I always suspected happened), I am very, very sorry for that.

I am sorry for not being able to be what I wanted or what you wanted. When I signed the papers and gave you up for adoption, I thought I was doing the best for you that I could. I thought you would be adopted by a family that would shower you with love and that you could have a normal childhood. I am sorry that did not happen.

I am sorry, too, that I could not give you what you needed as an adult.

There is one thing, though, that I think we can both be very happy about. I did not have an abortion.

If you are looking for more - that is it. She ended it with that sentence. She didn't even bother to sign it.
I had a hard time with this today. There are three major things that hit an angry chord with me:

1) The selfishness behind her actions for reaching out to me
2) Telling me my dead father wanted me aborted (I refuse to believe her lies)
3) Ending this letter the way she did by abruptly telling me I should be thanking her for not aborting me.

I think she should have run this letter by her therapist before sending it to me. If that therapist isn't a quack she would have informed her that a note like this can be pretty damn damaging to a person. Then again, my mother has a pretty good track record when it comes to shredding my heart.

I am not going to justify this letter with a response today. I may change my mind about that at a later time, but today I will remain silent on my end of the email. I thought long and hard about putting this on my blog. Initially I told myself that is immature and I need to keep my dirty laundry to myself. Then I reminded myself that I blog for me and no one else. Blogging is way cheaper than therapy and well, if throwing my dirty laundry out for anyone to see saves me a little sanity and a lot of dough, then so be it.

If my mother happens to find her words aired out on my blog, and gets upset, well then...shame on her for writing them. These words belong to me now, and I can put them here if I feel like it. I have nothing to lose. We have no relationship and frankly, if she gets upset then la dee dah I don't give a damn!

I tend to write what I feel as I feel it and right now I am angry at this woman for writing me such an awful letter. I pity her for being so cold and empty inside that she cannot imagine having the capacity to love a person that she helped to bring into this world. As selfish as she is, she obviously doesn't love herself. For that, I am sorry for her.

Even in a supposed apology letter, she is still stabbing at me. I don't understand her need to hurt me. I understand her desire to do what is best for me, and the guilt associated with knowing that her wishes were not fulfilled and I had it rough in my childhood years, but to deliberately lash out at me only measures the level of selfishness this woman has climbed to.

I know what happened with my Dad. I know that she called him after she had me in order to collect child support, she told him she had his daughter and his name was NOT on the birth certificate so he would have no rights to me. Then three years later he gets a call from social workers asking him to sign over his parental rights so I could be adopted. My dad fought for me. He refused to sign those papers for 3 years. He tried everything he could to get the state to give him a chance to take custody of me, but he was a single man, a truck driver, with no roots or a home at the time, and they would not let him have me. He only signed away his rights when they agreed to send him photos of me and allowed him one visit to make sure I was safe. I was six when he met me and that would be the one and only time he saw me until I was 17 and I found him.
March 10th will be the 3rd anniversary of my Daddy's death. This is a really hard time for me already, and to have this woman tell me such a horrible thing right now, it cuts deep. Three years is a long time, but that doesn't change the fact that my heart is broken over the loss of my Daddy. For her to say such things...She is awful. I cannot believe I have her blood running through my veins.

I think about how we are cut from the same cloth and it literally sickens me. I cannot turn out like this woman. I am nothing like her. She is everything I strive NOT to be.

I love my babies. Each and every one of them. I love them more than life itself. I would jump in front of a bus to save them. I would die for them. My love has NO boundaries. My babies are my heart, my soul. I could never imagine being without them. Being a mother is hard work, but the moment I saw those two lines on my pregnancy test I knew right away that I was ready for the challenge.

Sure, when I found out I was pregnant and alone I was scared.  I knew there was a good chance history would repeat itself, but I looked history in the face and told it to fuck off. I didn't need to sit and wait for history to repeat itself when I had a future to look forward to.

13 years later, I have so much to be thankful for. A loving husband who loves me more than I deserve, three beautiful boys who know just how to drive me nuts, and make me smile all at the same time. I have my faith. I know that my mother is not in charge of my fate. She never held the key to my life. God is in charge. He is the one that breathed life into me, and He continues to breathe life into me. He has a purpose for me. He is the one that I will thank for my life. Not her.

So today, I am going to thank God for the blessings He has bestowed upon me. I am going to take this experience as a reminder to love my children more outwardly so they will never ever doubt how much they mean to me. As hard as it is, I will pray for my mother. I will pray that one day she will know what it is like to feel for someone other than herself. She is living in a cold, dark world and I will pray that one day she will see the light and understand exactly what she has missed out on. Then, when I am done praying for her, I will let her go and hold on to what I do have, and thank my lucky stars that my side of the cloth is whole, colorful and woven strong, instead of tattered, faded and worn.

While I was posting this I came across a quote that I got from Tuesday's service last year:

"Refuse to fall down.
If you cannot refuse to fall down, refuse to stay down. If you cannot refuse to stay down, lift your heart toward heaven and like a hungry beggar, ask that it be filled and it will be filled.
You may be pushed down. You may be kept from rising.
But no one can keep you from lifting your heart to heaven--only you.
It is in the middle of misery that so much becomes clear.
The one who says nothing good came of this, is not yet listening."
-Clarisse Pinkola Estes
These words say it best. What is in my heart. I am refusing to stay down and rejoicing that my heart is filled with His love and all the love from all my family and friends.

I know that tomorrow, I will be ok. My side of the cloth is also resilient.

I thought long and hard about responding and overall felt I deserved to tell her how her words and actions made me feel.  (Although I wrote this response, I also decided NOT to send it.  Sometimes, it is better to just get it off your chest and move on.)


I really don't know how to respond. First, I think you never should have sent me this message. You could have written it to get it off your chest or whatever, but sending something like this to me was very selfish on your part. Did you ever once stop to think how hurtful your words would be to me? Compassion. That is a quality that is obviously not instilled in you, and why it is that you can never ever care for anyone unless it benefits you..

What your mom said to you was cruel. I am sorry she hurt you so badly, emotionally. Somehow, you have managed to get over what she did to you and if anything good came from our reunion it was that you and your mother now have each other. Which is good because without each other you both would have no one. The way you both have treated the ones that love you is unfortunate because pretty much anyone who has loved either of you has been hurt too much to maintain a healthy relationship with either of you.

I never hated you for giving me up for adoption. All I ever wanted was a mother. You should not feel guilt over giving me up. That was the one good thing you did for me. I surely would be dead had you not given me up. Regardless of the abuse I experienced in foster care, I came out of it to be the person I am today. Regardless of how difficult it is for you to care about me enough to be proud of who I am, I am proud of myself.

When I read your words all I see is you pointing your finger in every direction but at yourself. You need to stop blaming your mother for your poor mothering skills. You need to understand that your guilt is eating away at you because you need to take ownership of your actions. Saying sorry and being sorry are two different things. You are not sorry for anything until you admit that you did it. No one else is responsible for your actions. They are yours and yours alone.

Saying what you did to me, about my dad. That was incredibly selfish on your part. My Dad is dead. He can't stick up for himself. That was a jab at me and at him and it was unnecessary. That was just a weak attempt at making yourself feel better about your choices. I saw right through your words. It doesn't matter to me if my dad suggested an abortion. In the end, my Dad stepped up to the plate and was my Father. He loved me. He was selfless and compassionate. He was a good man.

I always knew you gave me up for Bob. That was something that lived in my gut my whole life. I was a thorn in your side and some man won your affections over me. Dumping me off was the easy answer so the two of you could have nothing in the way of each other. I never said that Bob molested me. My files said that he might have molested me. I said that he scared me. I was terrified of him. Even in my adult life, his name makes my stomach churn. I know he abused me. I know you abused me. I was not scared of you because you were my mom and all I ever wanted was for you to love me.

I never have and I never will get that love from you. I am actually ok with this. Because it was not you that I needed love from. It was my mother. Someone that I have never had. Someone I will never have. You, are not my mother. As far as I'm concerned, you did abort your daughter.

I hope you get the help you need in therapy. I hope you can actually own up to your actions. I know all you want in life is to love and be loved. We all want that. Your problem is that you need to learn to actually take a long hard look at yourself and find something to love about you. You will never be truly loved until you learn to love yourself. Someone gave me that advice when I was a scared young girl and it changed my life.

I am only going to ask one thing of you from here on out. Please don't write me. I don't know you, and from the few times I have met you I have had my heart broken every time. I don't want a relationship with someone who keeps hurting me. I am happy and fulfilled, and blessed beyond measure and I did it all without a mother.

Because I follow Christ and I believe in forgiveness, I will say that I forgive you, and I mean it.

Good luck in your endeavors.


(*names have been changed)