Lisa M. Kelly

Hometown – Sacramento, CA
Undergrad – Mills College, BA, Early Childhood Education
Graduate School – Mills College, 2011, MEd Education and Childhood Education
Current – Teacher, Berkeley Public Schools

Change and adversity have always been constant companions to Lisa Kelly. This began even before she can remember, when she spent months of her childhood in Colombia. Then, at three, her mother took her and her younger brother across the country, from Florida to California, to escape her alcoholic, abusive biological father. In California, Lisa’s mother bounced from home to home, husband to husband, sometimes dragging her children along for the ride.

Lisa’s schooling has also been turbulent. In Sacramento, California, until fifth grade she attended a private school that consisted of thirty-six students. Grades three through eight were combined into one classroom. This environment nurtured Lisa’s intellectual curiously and allowed her to believe she could achieve everything she dreamed if she only fed that curiosity. Also, Lisa never forgot the simple words of her mother’s second husband (who took care of Lisa and her brother for seven years and became Lisa’s rudder as she navigated the chaotic river of her life): “Just keep working hard in school – one day, a scholarship will be your ticket out of this mess.”

As her home situation grew less and less white-picket-fence, ideal nuclear family, Lisa clung to this idea as a means of escape. She prioritized academics, focusing all of her energy on being successful in school. She flourished in the public school system. Lisa is now a senior at Mira Loma High school, where she is pursuing an International Baccalaureate Diploma. Lisa has dedicated the last two years to this pursuit, the most prestigious, rigorous and challenging coursework available not only at her high school, but in the entire Sacramento area. Without the guidance of a supportive mother, Lisa has achieved all of this with a level of independence rarely faced by her fellow Diploma peers.

Lisa has also pursued her love of teaching, hoping that she might one day be able to motivate students like herself to take control of their lives through academics. She has volunteered at her local YMCA and tutored elementary school students. However, school has not been her only escape. Creative writing has allowed Lisa to explore and express the feelings that might otherwise bog her down in a cesspool of self-pity and remorse for the disadvantages of her situations. Instead, Lisa creates beauty – prosaic or poetic – out of those feelings, and can focus her positive energy completely on her schoolwork.

Being named a Ron Brown Scholar solidifies Lisa’s resolve to attend and excel in college, but it is also a validation of all Lisa’s work and sacrifice and life-long commitment to her school work. It is also yet another opportunity for Lisa, twenty or thirty years down the road, to help struggling students like herself to achieve their dreams and rise above circumstances beyond their control.