For Laila-Rose Hudson, May 14, 2022, had been a long time coming.
“It feels amazing,” she said. “It's very, very surreal. I've been waiting for this moment for a very long time, and I couldn't be any happier.”
That moment was when she walked across the stage at Ohio State University to receive her law degree.
It wasn’t an easy journey.
Laila-Rose was a foster child and although she knew at age 11 she wanted to become a lawyer, she heard from foster parents and social workers that kids like her didn’t become lawyers. She would never be able to afford it.
“At first I was very much subscribed to those odds,” she said. “And I let other people often put limiting beliefs onto me, and I just accepted them as reality.”
That changed her senior year in high school, when her government teacher pulled her aside and asked her if she’d ever thought about law school. She wasn’t even sure how she would pay for college.
Laila-Rose was one of the recipients of a Kids to Love scholarship, which are given each year to children in foster care. She used that scholarship her first year of college, at Berry College in Rome, Georgia.
Laila-Rose was taking mostly communications classes at Berry but also had a government class. One day, her professor kept her after class and asked her if she had considered a career in law. It was another push to help her realize that communications wasn’t on the path she truly wanted to be on.
“It's not really what I was going for,” she said. “And I knew in my heart that I was not being true to myself. I was taking the path of least resistance, and that's not me.”
She took a semester off and transferred to the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she changed her major to political science and started her pre-law track. She joined the mock trial team and finally realized her teachers and advisors were right.
“I think that all these people having faith in me gave me the ability to have faith in myself,” she said. “And so even though I could look on a computer and look what the odds said, that wasn't my reality. It didn't have to be. I could be different. And I just started to believe that, slowly but surely.”
Laila-Rose received a Kids to Love scholarship to help with college tuition, and after graduation, Kids to Love continued to support her as she continued her career track through law school.
“I just was really shocked,” Laila-Rose said. “I didn't think you would be able to do that or and it was such a nice surprise and a little bit — even though I had a very generous scholarship here — just a little bit less of a loan I had to take out.”
When it came time to apply to schools, Laila-Rose sent applications everywhere — and to her surprise, she got accepted to several. After getting acceptance letters from several schools including USC, Penn State and Emory University, she settled on attending the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University.
“I saw the people. I saw the culture. I saw the family that was here,” she said. “And foster kids are always looking for family, and I knew that this was my place somehow.”
She also came back to the Kids to Love Scholarship Luncheon — this time, as a guest speaker.
“I was super honored to get to stand in front of a bunch of current and former foster youth that are hopefully coming behind me and doing great things and to get this chance to tell them a story of hope, to inspire them,” she said. "I love any opportunity I get to do things like that.”
That wasn’t the last time she spoke to a group about her journey, either. Laila-Rose was a speaker at her law school graduation. And after taking a much-needed vacation, she’s going to start studying for the bar exam. After that, she’s not sure what her future holds, but she does know she wants to be involved with children who come from the same background she did.
She has a message for young girls in foster care as well: Have a family when it’s right and love yourself first. Many girls in foster care haven’t had much affection shown to them, she says, and she doesn’t want anyone to jump into a relationship and start a family because they don’t feel loved enough.
“It has been my experience that although I've had good romantic relationships, I outgrew them,” Laila-Rose said. “And I have seen a lot who find that those kinds of relationships end up limiting them, and they don't go on to do the things that they want to do because maybe they have children younger than they originally intended or and they just have a whole world of responsibility, and they don't get to focus on them. And it's so important.
“I have gotten to enjoy my twenties, work hard in my twenties, set myself up for success. And that's so important. I don't know if I could have done this with a child. It would have been much harder.”
For Laila-Rose, it’s a good time in her life, and she wants other foster children to know the same thing is on the horizon for them, if they want it.
“I just want foster kids to know, former and current, that they have something very meaningful to contribute to the world, even if it's just their story,” she said. “And if it's their artwork, if it's their culinary abilities, they have something that's worth something, and they should know that because I don't think that they're told enough.”