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Originally published Tuesday, June 10, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Nicole Brodeur

A ceremony that beat the odds

It took just minutes for all of them to reach the podium. But the tears, the worry, the uncertainty that it took to get them there? Those have lasted their...

Seattle Times staff columnist

It took just minutes for all of them to reach the podium.

But the tears, the worry, the uncertainty that it took to get them there? Those have lasted their entire lives.All that angst eased on Saturday, when 125 area foster kids were honored for completing high school, during a luncheon ceremony indoors at Safeco Field.

The event was sponsored by Treehouse, Casey Family Programs, the Mockingbird Society, YMCA Transitions and the Washington state Division of Children and Family Services -- the agencies that have served as a safety net and a compass for these kids.

In many ways, Saturday's event was like any other graduation. The line of adults holding cameras aloft. The hoots and whistles after each name was called.

Another June in America.

Most kids wave off a fuss. But not this group. They took in the praise and strode across the front of the room. They're not afraid anymore. They're ready.

I went to the ceremony because I needed it. I needed to see that something was working, that good things happen despite the odds.

And the odds are stacked pretty high against these kids.

The state cites some sobering numbers: Fewer than 35 percent of 18-year-olds in foster care complete high school. Only 10 percent of those go to college; fewer than 3 percent earn a bachelor's degree.

But over the past three years, 79 percent of those enrolled in Treehouse's Coaching-to-College program have completed high school and entered postsecondary programs.

Some of the biggest cheers were coming from the back table, where Kasey Carroll was surrounded by supporters: her sister and her boyfriend. Her first foster parents, her guardian ad litem, her state caseworker.

"You could make a movie out of this table," said Rob Johnson, Kasey's current foster father.

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Kasey and her sister were living in motels with their drug-addicted parents before entering the system. She will graduate from Orting High School, Pierce County, this month.

"I kinda gave up about six months ago," Kasey said. "I was in a very difficult time, I dropped out of school. But I got back on track."

She wants to attend Seattle Central Community College and get into the restaurant business.

"This is quite a highlight for me," said Romy Garcia, Kasey's caseworker. "Seeing them move forward inspires me to do what I do."

Margaret Wilkins, of Tacoma, was there to see her foster daughter, Daniella Knight, 17, receive her certificate. She has cared for Daniella and her sister for the past four years.

"Don't get me choked up here," Wilkins told me when I asked what it meant to be there. "Daniella stuck with it and she worked hard.

"She didn't believe that she could do it. But I did."

Daniella has received a full scholarship to Seattle University and hopes to enter the health-care field.

"People think we're not supposed to succeed, but if you put your mind to it, you can do it," she said. "I know that now."

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

She hopes they keep in touch.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

About Nicole Brodeur
My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
nbrodeur@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2334

UPDATE - 8:10 PM
Nicole Brodeur: Possibilities replace prisoners in island's future

Nicole Brodeur: She never lost moral compass

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