By Amanda Cairo
When Grant Louis showed up on his first day of classes at the University of Idaho, he had a long road ahead of him. The Vernon, British Columbia native didn’t have his GED, had recently been homeless and was raising three kids on his own.
“It’s been a long journey, but a good one -- though it was scary at times,” says Louis. “There was a lot I had to deal with, but I made it.”
Beating the odds, the Okanagan tribal member is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in child, family and consumer studies, specializing in the science of family life. It is his hope to continue on with a master’s degree next year focusing on social work and marriage counseling.
“There were times that I didn’t know if I was going to make it,” says Louis. “This is the first thing I’ve ever finished; it feels really good.”
Louis’ academic pursuits were driven by his own experiences living on reservations – where addiction is prevalent and parenting skills suffered during generations of children being put in government-sponsored boarding schools.
“I see how comfortable my kids are at the University and how accessible education is for them.”
After taking classes that looked at working with individuals on solving a problem, fortunately, an education class devoted to preventing social problems clicked with Louis and created his path to graduation.
“Rather than fix one person at a time -- because when someone has an addiction, it has adverse effects on the entire family -- I want to change the system, the behavior before there are problems,” says Louis.
As a non-traditional student with three children to raise, Louis says Idaho wasn’t his first choice, but a series of events eventually led him to enroll on the Moscow campus.
The first two semesters were shaky, but perseverance and conversations with his professors kept him going. Being referred to the University’s disabilities services program saved him.
“I never learned how to learn,” says Louis, who recalls being told he was stupid just because he was Native. “My schools just passed us because they wanted us out; they wanted those graduation statistics.”
At the disabilities center, Louis was able to find programs to help with his reading and writing skills, to improve his study habits, to learn how to ask for help and to overcome past prejudices learned early on in school.
It took Louis awhile to re-imagine himself from the reservation kid whose teachers gave up on him to being a scholar. It is a way of self-perception and personal thinking he says he is now capable of passing on to his children, and in the future, to his clients.
“I see how comfortable my kids are at the University and how accessible education is for them,” says Louis.
The advent of the Native American Student Center, arrival of a Tribal Liaison on campus and joining the Vandal Nation Singers’ drum group helped Louis carve out a space at the University to call his own and become proud of a heritage he is able to pass on to his children.
While school has been a rewarding experience for him, Louis says he’s even prouder seeing how his children are learning about their culture and growing at ease in the academic world.
It’s a much more positive world than where he grew up.