Graduation ceremonies are now in full swing, seeing thousands of Island students achieve goals they set out to achieve years ago.
But what if you don’t have the family support or the financial means to go to school? That’s the scenario for thousands of foster kids who age out of the system each year, and are left at loose ends. Leading to high rates of them becoming entangled in our justice system, or committing suicide. It’s also what makes the story of one Nanaimo VIU graduate so inspiring.
With her disarming laugh and friendly smile, it’s easy to imagine Jaime Howden has lived a charmed life. But on the eve of graduating from VIU, this 19 year old’s proof that looks can be deceiving.
“So excited but I’m kind of nervous at the same time,” says Howden.
She’s earned this achievement and happy ending all on her own. Overcoming the odds that have claimed so many aging out of BC’s Foster Care system, after being removed from an abusive family home at 16.
“My dad hit me and that’s kind of what made me leave,” says Howden.
Now about to walk in cap and gown, to accept her diploma in hairdressing from VIU, she stands as one of the rare few who have made it out of foster care and thrived on the other side.
“Amazingly that we didn’t know that part of her, like we didn’t know that side,” says VIU Instructor Joanne Slocum.
Graduating first from high school, which the provincial government’s latest data says in 2013-2014, only 45 % of eligible foster care kids did, compared to 80 % of other students.
So what makes this former foster kid different? The chance to go.
“I wouldn’t be able to without the tuition waiver program,” says Howden.
One that Child and Youth representative Mary Ellen Turel Lafonde urged BC universities to offer after seeing the heartbreaking outcomes of so many kids aging out of care.
“We took on that challenge and it’s been phenomenal what we’ve been able to achieve as a result providing this open door policy for any child aging out of foster care for their first diploma degree,” says VIU President Ralph Nilson.
Which brings Howden to convocation day in Nanaimo.
Since the foster care tuition waiver 78 students at VIU alone, have taken them up on the offer and 14 have now graduated. Howden, even getting some hardware to go along with it, winning the Lieutenant Governor’s Silver Medal for her excellence.
“Hard working, always staying late,” recalls Slocum of the teen’s work ethic.
Her struggle a badge of honour, now that she hopes other foster kids can see themselves wearing one day too.