Courtney La Prince

Courtney La Prince entered the foster care system after being abandoned by her mother when she was 10 years old. Driven to succeed and supported by a volunteer from CASA of Prince George’s County, Courtney recently graduated from Moore College of Art and Design with a degree in graphic design.

This summer, Courtney is heading to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of working for a production company in the film industry.

We asked Courtney to imagine that she was delivering a commencement speech to a class of young people “graduating” from the foster care system. This is what she said.

Follow your dreams.

It is the theme of many a commencement speech. Like all youth, we foster youth have dreams that we are entitled to pursue—and to achieve.

But before you can follow your dreams, before you can set out on that road away from the life you knew as a child growing up in the foster care system and become the person you are destined to be, you must first leave the anger and the hurt behind you.

In a word, you must forgive.

A very wise woman once told me, Courtney, you will not be able to love yourself, you will not be able to love anybody else—you will not be able to heal—until you forgive. Only when you have forgiven those who have hurt you will be possible for you to accept all the good things that will come your way.

I do not have to tell you that forgiveness does not come easily. It is not a switch we flip, not something we do once a year or once a week and then go about our everyday life. It is a journey. 

For me, it began with conversations—many conversations. Probably like you, I had a lot of people to forgive: My mother who abandoned me and my sister in a shelter when I was 10 years old. My father, who was never there. My uncle, who sexually abused me when I was a little girl. My social workers, my foster parents…. And myself, for being so hard.

I had so much anger, so much hate in me. When I was younger, I didn’t care about anything. All I wanted to do was hurt people. I always said that if I ever met my father, I would punch him in the face. I wouldn’t care what he said, I wouldn’t care what he did. I was looking for him—diligently searching for him—so that I could punch him in the face. Because he was supposed to be there for me, and he wasn’t.

I did find my father, after all of those years of looking for him. By then I was on the path of forgiveness. Lucky for both of us! I told him that I was angry and sad that he wasn’t there. We actually have a relationship now. I would not have been able to do that if I had not gone through that process of forgiveness. My anger would have pushed him away.

It was hard, it was really hard, to find all of those people who hurt me and rationally talk to them, to voice my feelings about what happened. To tell them what they did to me, how they made me feel all these years.

My greatest motivation to have these conversations came from the realization that I was the one that was suffering, not the people who hurt me. Forgiving them might not make a bit of difference to them, but it would make a world of difference to me. I thought about my uncle, who sexually abused me. I realized, he’s sleeping just fine. I’m the one who’s tossing and turning, who is afraid to sleep in the dark, who is scared and hurting all of the time. I’m the one who is afraid to love someone else because I am afraid they might hurt me. He’s living his life fine, and I’m stuck in this cell of anger.

It has taken me years to be able to stand here today and tell you that I have forgiven many of the people who hurt me growing up. Once I started forgiving people, I started to feel happier. I wasn’t angry anymore. I can love someone else now. I can love myself.

In many ways I have been lucky. I was able to have these conversations, to find these people. And I was surprised that actually, many of them have been hurting too. They feel guilt, regret. But honestly, that isn’t what matters. What matters is that they are not standing in my way anymore. That talking with them released that burden of the past off of me.

You may not be able to talk with the people you need to forgive. If you cannot have a conversation, write them a letter. Or just write it down and don’t send it anywhere. Or talk to someone else. Get those feelings out, get rid of the anger and realize that you are in control of your life. Don’t let the people who hurt you haunt your future. 

Then follow your dreams.