Dear Dean Marilyn Flynn of USC

So  . . .  I was awarded a scholarship. This is my “Thank you” letter.


Thank you for believing in me enough to award me this scholarship.

On my first day as a student you stood up in front of the crowded Radisson ballroom and told us to “Fight On” and never give up as you raised your hand in the victory sign. Hundreds of students shouted “Fight On!” back at you as I sat silent, wide eyed and more than a little frightened.  I was a poser, a fraud, clearly a clerical error. I was supposed to be huddled in a county DPSS cubicle getting paper cuts and continuing my mediocre path to an average existence; I was not comfortable sitting in a room of Veterans, young students who were the age of my eldest daughter and all of the bright and shining minds around me. I wasn’t sure if USC was a school or a cult, a religion or a lifestyle. Two years later, I am certain it is a little of all of these and I have been converted.

My first memories are of being homeless and sleeping 26 miles away from USC in the Duarte city park’s metal rocket ship. The space was small, hard to get to, and secured by surrounding bars. I don’t think I was aware that other kids had beds and rooms of their own – nor did I know they did not knock on doors asking for food. It was just my life. I had my siblings and a place to sleep. Looking back on this time, I remember being content and even happy. Looking back, I also wonder what took so long for adults to intervene! Most importantly, I look back and see the reason I chose to work with chronically homeless, mentally ill adults who have children. See, I wasn’t motherless. My mother would come and go and sometimes take us with her to friends and family while she chased a dream of feeling whole through drugs or relationships. She never had someone to talk to, to help her understand herself, or to support her in making better choices for her children.

I was adopted by a rocket scientist and a school teacher when I was eight years old. When I was 14 I fell in love for the first time with a boy whose closet seemingly was exclusively filled with USC apparel. I suppose I fell in love with USC as a side effect of knowing him and his mother who had been a nurse at the Women’s and Children’s hospital. Long after she died and he was gone I sat our youngest daughter on my lap and told her that someday she was going to be a Trojan because it was her legacy and her birthright. She asked why I wasn’t a Trojan, and having no good explanation I decided to apply. It was scary to finally have a nice and steady life and even consider upsetting it for the chance to do something extraordinary. The first time I applied, I was rejected by the school and felt relief. Then I was sad. It was in that moment that I believed I deserved something wonderful for myself. I knew my reasons were solid, my goal was honorable, and I understood that attending USC did not have to be the dream of a scared child in a woman’s body so I applied again and this time was accepted.

The three year MSW program on campus has been more than I could have imagined. I worked the first year, took a sabbatical last year, worked through the summer and quit my county job in August so I could devote all of my time to school and my little daughter. Although I write short children’s stories and sell leggings to pay my day to day bills, Financial Aid is the only way I can afford to attend school. This scholarship will reduce the amount I have to pay back. It is a small miracle and a giant relief.

I appreciate being at a University founded by the Methodist and Episcopal Church conference. It seems fitting that this school would have a social work department where the field is approached as a field of scientific study and as an art in human connection. Beyond my teenaged fascination with USC, I selected it because of the work it does with the homeless population. Over the years I have written a website dedicated to explaining homelessness and poverty to the rest of society. From that vantage point I was able to witness the good that USC does in the community and in the world. I have attended lectures, visited projects and become fans of the teaching staff before I became a student. As a student I have a deeper appreciation for the professors in the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.

It is my intention to take what I have learned here and apply it through offering mental health services to socially marginalized families – particularly parents of homeless families. I have, long ago, healed the wounds of my childhood and want to help others from experiencing that uncertainty and fear. I have always been loud and a little (what do the kids call it these days?) “extra”, but USC has made me fearless. I can raise my hand, I shout “Fight On”, I have discovered that more than a school and a wardrobe choice, that USC is a Home Décor option as well. My walls bear photos of my friends in the cohort. My telephone chips with texts from other students and professors. My heart is full and my mind is learning. Your scholarship is an amazing and most appreciated gift, surpassed only by my appreciation for the department you lead which is changing my life and in turn will improve the lives I interact with.


Thank you and Fight On!

Sonya Keith

Published by Homeless

Mommy. Social worker. Nice lady seeking to end homelessness and end poverty. FightOn

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