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Oakland Teen Overcomes Homelessness, Foster Homes To Graduate As Valedictorian; Headed To Yale

Carlene Ervin graduated Valedictorian from Aspire Cal Prep Academy in Berkeley, to much applause. In her commencement speech, she quoted from one of her favorite books by Dr. Seuss, “Oh The Places You’ll Go”
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OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — Carlene Ervin graduated Valedictorian from Aspire Cal Prep Academy in Berkeley, to much applause. In her commencement speech, she quoted from one of her favorite books by Dr. Seuss, “Oh The Places You’ll Go”

Today is your day!
You’re off to great places!
You’re off and away!

Ervin is off and away to Yale this fall to Yale University- a great place indeed for a foster kid from West Oakland. She said her foster mom is the one who put her on that path. “She has really redirected my entire life,”  said Ervin. “The first thing she told me was you’re very bright, so make sure you go to school She was basically being raised by her siblings.

“My mom and my dad were always arguing and my dad would leave and she’d be like you’re never allowed here again and I just remember when things got too tough my mom would just walk away and we wouldn’t hear from her  – and my brother would just take over like it was nothing. Cook, clean, getting to school…”

Ervin’s most vivid memory tells you what life was like. “One day my brothers and sister were eating cereal and we ran out of milk and my brother went into the kitchen and got ice cubes and put it into the carton and melted the ice and I said why are you doing that? And he told me that ice cubes make more milk. So for the longest time I thought the ice cubes was milk but he had added water to our milk to make it so that everyone would have milk for our cereal.”

Ervin and her family ended up in a homeless shelter in Richmond. That’s when Child Protective Services took the kids away from their mom and placed them in different foster homes.

“Someone overheard my mother say that she wanted to kill herself and her children,” remembered Ervin. “Like it became too much, and I’ve never gotten the chance to ask her if that was truthful or not because I don’t have contact with her.”

She used to have supervised visits with her mom – until it became too painful.

“I think she longs for that relationship with her biological famly and she hasn’t been able to have that,” said her teacher, Sara Salazar.  “I think that’s been hard, emotionally.”

Salazar met Ervin eight years ago at Cal Prep, a small charter school, designed for kids who don’t usually go to college. Ervin would check in with her everyday and at graduation thanked her for that constant support.  “ I knew I could go to her when I was dealing with something extremely hard that had to do with school or anything else,”

“Carlene, at this point, I consider her family,” said Salazar. “She’s my student but you don’t know somebody for eight years without forming an attachment.

Caring adults, and the consistency of going to one school helped Ervin leave the anger and hurt behind. “It wasn’t like I awoke up all of a sudden and was attitude-free .  It was kind of like every day I made a connection with the teacher. I would make a connection with a student. I would stop being so angry and stop shutting everyone else out, but it was a slow process,” said Ervin.

School became her thing. “Carlene is fierce. She’s into it. She likes learning,” said Salazar with a smile. “I don’t think she cares as much about her grades as she does about learning.”

That has paid off, as she heads off for Yale this fall.

“So, class of 2014,” she read, closing her commencement speech, with Dr. Seuss again.

We are off to great places!
Today is your day!
Our (sic) mountain is waiting
So…  get on your way!

Dr. Seuss had it right Carlene, and so do you.

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