Fewer than 10 percent of young people from the foster care system graduate from college, which makes the success of TaLona Holbert ’12 all the more remarkable.
For TaLona Holbert ’12, college was a long shot.
Born and raised in California, Holbert was placed in foster care at birth. Although she was adopted at age five, her mother continued fostering other children, sometimes as many as eight at a time, and so Holbert’s home always ran like a foster home. In all her years of growing up, she never had a key.
“Living in an environment like that, it’s easy for you to start to see yourself a certain way,” she said. “It’s almost like you start off institutionalized in your home.”
Very few of her role models growing up were college graduates. “The push was to graduate from high school,” Holbert said. “I remember when I graduated from high school thinking that that was the accomplishment and I could almost stop there.”
After high school, however, Holbert had the drive to do more, and she finished two years at San Francisco State University, working on campus, working off campus, paying for everything herself, before financial pressures finally caught up with her.
She dropped out, and after a year of struggle—at one point she lived in an empty house with no electricity—Holbert set off for a fresh start. She transferred to Adelphi, the school her childhood pastor had attended. In fact, her only connection on the entire East Coast was her pastor’s wife’s cousin, who lived in Boston.
But fortunately for Holbert, she immediately forged new connections at Adelphi. She declared a political science major, and found herself in a course with Margaret Gray, Ph.D., associate professor.
“It was clear from the first time I met TaLona that she was going to be a success story,” Dr. Gray said.“She has amazing academic skills and a drive that I rarely see. In addition, she’s a delightful person.”
Still, Holbert was working to support herself and pay for school entirely on her own. It took its toll.
“I’d go to school a couple of semesters and then I’d take off to work as much as I could,” Holbert said. “Those were the times that Maggie would track me down and say, ‘TaLona, you’re so close. You have to finish. You came too far, you worked too hard.’”
In 2012, all Holbert’s efforts paid off. Not only did she graduate with a B.A. in Political Science, but she was also accepted into law school with a full scholarship.
“I was the first of the children that my mom raised to get a college degree, let alone get into graduate school,” Holbert said. “I didn’t really have mentors who had accomplished those things around me, so it felt huge.”
Today, she has graduated from Cardozo Law School. She and her partner, Danelly Bellow from Cardozo, won the 12th Annual Immigration Law Competition hosted by the Moot Court Board. On the path to this victory, Holbert and her team beat Harvard (in both oral and on the brief).
In addition to building a successful career as a litigator, Holbert has other dreams. Her long-term goal is to establish an organization to reach back and push other foster children forward.
“It’s hard to accomplish and actualize your dreams if you don’t have someone to fall back on when times get hard,” she said. “I’d like to provide that support system for other foster children.”
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