Spring Graduates Share their Stories

Jeremy Long

Jeremy Long, Spring 2010 graduate

Four students share their stories on their journeys to graduating from UNC. One of them is Jeremy Long (pictured), who successfully transitioned out of foster care and is earning a college degree, a combination that put him on the national stage.

Jeremy Long isn’t one to dwell on his tumultuous upbringing.

The 21-year-old senior who’s graduating from UNC on Saturday is perfectly willing to share his story that led to being placed in foster care at age 13 (in his own words for an internship with a foster care organization).

But that’s only part of a remarkable story.

“Everyone always says they’re really sorry I had to go through that, but I really think foster care was my saving grace,” said Long, who came to UNC after graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School in Denver. “Without it, I wouldn’t be here.”

In attendance when Long walks across the stage at Nottingham Field on Saturday will be his foster mom, Jane Shapiro (who helped him get on the college path), his grandparents (who helped facilitate the first meeting between Long and Shapiro) and the family of his best friend (who’ve become part of his extended family). He’ll then join the 6 percent of former children in foster care who graduate from college, according to a recent study reported on NPR – which featured Jeremy prominently as one of the success stories.

Long will take the degree he earned in Communication Studies and head for a summer internship in Washington, D.C., with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. There, he’ll work alongside senators on a foster care caucus aimed at adoption and foster care issues.

As one of the success stories, Long admits he’s in high demand. He interned last summer in Seaside, Ore., with FosterClub, a national foster care network, in which he wrote his personal account of his experience. He’s also served for the past six years as a peer adviser for foster children at Bridging the Gap operated by Mile High United Way — which he hopes to work for when he returns from D.C. He still finds time to squeeze in playing tennis, a hobby he took up while working at a Denver tennis club.

Long applauds UNC’s effort to help foster kids transition to college. The Office of Academic Support and Advising piloted a program last fall geared toward “unaccompanied youth” (UY), who are defined as students in homeless situations who have no custodial parent or guardian. FAFSA forms for 2009-10 included questions about UY status and UNC identified about 40 new freshmen in helping them connect directly with financial aid and academic advisers to help them with their transition to college.

“I’m really excited UNC has done something,” he said.

Long himself plans to one day be a foster care parent. He knows firsthand of the benefits.

“Probably one of best scenarios that could happen (for me) was foster care,” he said. “A stable foster home has gotten me where I am today.”

Jenna Raymond
Raymond, 22, is an out-of-state student who is graduating debt-free, thanks to some careful financial planning and scholarships she earned along the way. Growing up in Homer, Alaska, at the age of 14 she began saving 90 percent of what she earned from various jobs to put toward college. Knowing she’d enroll out of state, she pulled down two jobs during the summer months and saved annual dividends shared with Alaska residents from a fund that collects energy royalties, applying the same savings-to-spending ratio. She hasn’t received any financial support from her parents, who also put themselves through college on their own. After graduating in the top 10 percent of her class, she chose UNC, the only university outside of Alaska she applied to, because of its accredited dietetics program and out-of-state tuition rate. She served for three years as an RA, which helped her with living expenses as did local private scholarships she earned and from UNC National Undergraduate Scholarships and Dietetics scholarships. She volunteered extensively, including at NCMC, the Weld Food Bank, at local elementary schools as part of a Dietetics nutritional education program and for the Greeley Transitional House. Raymond, a 4.0 GPA student, will graduate Saturday with a degree in dietetics, with a minor in biology, and spend the next year in a dietetics internship. She plans to be a registered dietician.

Elsa Atcherley
Elsa Atcherley moved to the U.S. from Mexico in 1994 in search of a better life, and was joined afterward by her children and mother. She realized that the path to a better life would require learning English and then earning her GED, which she did despite struggling to make ends meet financially. After moving to Greeley in 2001 to work as a bus driver for a local school district, and wiith the encouragement of two of her fellow bus drivers, she enrolled at Aims Community College and earned an associate’s degree. She then transferred to UNC, where she participated in Center for Human Enrichment programs while earning her bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. She’s now a graduate student in UNC’s Clinical Counseling program, planning to complete graduation requirements this summer. The 41-year-old single mom’s next goal is a position working with children and their families, and seeing her oldest son, who is completing his first year at UNC, follow in her footsteps. Of Note: UNC receives TRIO grants from the U.S. Department of Education to support the Center for Human Enrichment and other programs for first-generation students and students from low-income families. Each year, CHE serves 200 first-generation students at UNC.

Heather Stauffer
When Heather Stauffer walks across the stage to receive her degree in Political Science, it will be the fifth time a family member has made the same trip, so far. Her parents, Kent and Barb Stauffer, earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UNC in the 1970s, and her brother Tyler is completing his first year at UNC. Interestingly, Heather is the only one not to live in Turner Hall. Heather and her father share an interest in politics. He was active in student government during his undergraduate career, which included a term as Student Body President, helping rewrite the student government constitution and playing a key role in securing a voice for students in where their fees were spent. Heather served on the College of Humanities and Social Science Student Council, was active in the last presidential campaign, volunteered at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver and has made presentations on human rights issues, an interest that last summer took her to seven Mediterranean countries during a three-month-long, human rights-themed study-abroad experience. She plans on using a law degree to specialize in human rights law and activism. Of Note: Heather Stauffer is one of the growing number of UNC students taking advantage of increased study-abroad opportunities. Participation has tripled in the past five years, according to UNC Study Abroad Coordinator Joe Tort.

Information about commencement