Sunday, September 13, 2009
(Above: Lily on the Capitol steps. Photo by Tina Raheem/Orphan Foundation of America)
Good news for Lily Dorman-Colby fans, and that includes Berkeley school board President Nancy Riddle, state Senator Loni Hancock, everyone who went to Berkeley High from 2000 to 2004, and me.
Lily, who is now a senior at Yale, has just been named one of the top 10 college women of 2009 by Glamour magazine.
It's a very big honor. Martha Stewart was one of the winners back in 1961.
I first met Lily during her senior year at Berkeley High, when her fellow students elected her to be their representative on the Berkeley school board.
It's usually a nominal position, sort of a glorified civics lesson. But Lily turned it into something substantive, successfully lobbying the board on a wide range of issues affecting students.
"State law forbids us from counting her vote," Riddle told me. "But we have such respect for Lily's judgment, we always pay very careful attention to everything she says."
Lily was also getting great grades, despite suffering from dyslexia, and starring on the wrestling team. But she was so down-to-earth and unpretentious, her fellow students weren't jealous. They rooted for her, instead.
Even more impressively, she accomplished all these things despite a truly horrific childhood. She was in the foster car system since she was 12 because her parents were unable to care for her due to drug use and mental illness.
She bounced from one foster home after another. Some were good, but others were right out of Dickens. But she never felt sorry for herself. Instead, she latched onto education as her ticket out.
But she never forgot where she came from. As one of the lucky survivors of the foster care system - only 2 percent of foster children graduate from college - Lily has made it her life's mission to reform foster care so other kids won't have to go through what she did.
Between high school and college she interned in Hancock's office, where her suggestions helped Hancock draft a law that made it easier for kids to find foster homes.
"While the official title was 'Child Welfare Services: Resource Family Pilot Program,' I always referred to this bill as 'Lily's Bill,'" Hancock says.
Every time I run into Hancock, her first words to me are always "Have you heard from Lily? How's she doing?"
Answer: Very nicely, thanks. She spent last summer interning in Washington D.C. with the American Bar Association, doing legal research on laws affecting foster children.
She was back in Washington again this summer, interning with both the Child Welfare League of America and Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut. Her next step: law school.
She has also written a how-to guidebook, based on her own experiences, to teach foster kids how to get into college.
For Lily, the best part of the Glamour award was hanging out with the other winners, including a chanteuse from USC, Stanford basketball star Jayne Appel, the inventor of a folding wheelchair from MIT, and a future doctor who is first in her class at West Point.
"They’re awesome!" she says. "We're hoping to stay in touch with each other and work with each other on projects."
The issue is on the stands now; Gwen Stefani is on the cover. The article about Lily is on page 240.