If you asked me who is the most inspirational person I've met in all the time I've been writing this column, it would be easy: Lily Dorman-Colby.
I met her 10 years ago, when her fellow students at Berkeley High elected her to be their representative on the Berkeley School Board.
The student representative is usually a nominal position, a sort of glorified civics lesson; but Lily turned it into something substantive.
"State law forbids us from counting her vote," board member Nancy Riddle told me, "but we have such respect for Lily's judgment, we always pay very careful attention to everything she says."
She was also getting straight A's, despite having dyslexia, and starring on the wrestling team. But she was so down-to-earth and unpretentious, the other kids weren't jealous of her. They rooted for her, instead.
Even more impressively, she accomplished all these things despite a truly Dickensian childhood.
Lily grew up in a series of foster homes. The county would give the foster family $500 a month, out of which they deducted $400 a month for rent, leaving Lily with only $100 to pay for everything else: food, clothes, school supplies - the works. She lived on spaghetti and rice, and I don't think she ever wore anything that was new.
Instead of feeling sorry for herself, as she had every right to do, she willed herself to become an incredibly focused, disciplined, passionate and compassionate advocate for the underdog, as well as a genuinely nice person. Her suffering not only made her stronger, it made her more sensitive to the suffering of others.
Not surprisingly, the colleges came begging. She received full scholarship offers from Harvard, Brown, Princeton, Dartmouth and Georgetown. But she turned them all down to go to Yale.
But she never forgot where she came from. Only three percent of foster kids ever make it past high school, and she was determined to change that.
During college she wrote a how-to guidebook, based on her own experiences, to teach foster kids how to get into college. She also conducted workshops on essay writing, choosing colleges, preparing for the SAT, editing applications, finding scholarships and applying for financial aid.
Then she went to law school at UC Berkeley, specializing in – surprise! – laws affecting foster kids.
During one summer she interned with state Senator Loni Hancock, who was so inspired by her, she authored Assembly Bill 340 – with lots of input from Lily - to streamline the process for licensing and approving foster families and adoptive parents who care for abused or neglected children.
"While the official title was 'Child Welfare Services Resource Family Pilot Program,' says Hancock, "I always called it 'Lily's Bill.'"
Lily's Bill was signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in October 2007.
Lily will graduate from law school this Friday, May 15, and she already has a great job lined up – a two-year fellowship with the Youth Law Center in San Francisco, where she'll help foster families become effective advocates for their kids in the educational system.
And on Sunday, two days after graduation, she'll marry her longtime boyfriend. I'm dubbing the entire weekend "Lilypalooza."
God bless you, Lily, and godspeed. My fondest wish is to live long enough to vote for you for Governor some day.