Monday, February 9, 2015

Amazing journey: Runaway to therapist

Sherrie St. ClairIf you have a boat, she asks, and you replace each plank one at a time, will it still be the same boat? She laughs. She says, “What if the planks are ideas—the ideas that make us who we are?” and taps the plastic top of her paper cup and recounts her past as if it were on index cards:

A child in an abusive home. Two-time high-school dropout. A 16-year-old who decided to kill herself by hitch-hiking. Staunch Christian. A foster child, just like her parents. Someone who vowed never to have children. (“Abuse is so generational. I figured I’d just stop all of it.”) Now a married mother of five. Now the first person in her family with a bachelor’s degree, the first with a master’s.

“I don’t want to be defined by where I come from,” Sherrie St. Clair says in a spacious north Spokane coffee shop. “It’s not me.” She laughs—she laughs a lot—and adds, “It is me, but it’s not me. It’s just a snapshot. I’m still becoming.”

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Sherrie is 46 now, and wondering what she will become next. Her future options seem as numerous as her past challenges: She could volunteer at the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery. “So I can go cuddle babies,” she says. Teach self-esteem classes. Write books for children in counseling. “Parents would read them to kids, and both would learn,” she says. “Writing, teaching, counseling—I’m in a really creative space in my life right now.”

Her choices are diverse, but all rooted in her desire to help others, especially young people. Her first big step toward that goal was in 2008, when she enrolled in Washington State University’s online program. She wasn’t sure she could succeed; she still remembered her father’s words: “What makes you think you’re smart enough?” The scholarship, she says, was WSU’s reply: “Yes, you can do this.”

In 2010, she graduated with a bachelor’s in Social Sciences and a 3.96 GPA. In 2014, she earned her master’s in counseling from Liberty University with a 3.95 GPA.

Many WSU Global Campus online course spaces have virtual mentors, who offer non-academic support. A virtual mentor noticed Sherrie’s leadership abilities, and asked her to apply for the program. Sherrie was accepted, and even now, five years after graduating from WSU, she’s still helping others along the same path.

Part of a virtual mentor’s job is to read the discussion boards. Sherrie has found a kind of camaraderie amid all the course-specific dialogue, a shared belief that by bettering your own life, you can better the lives of others.

“I see a lot of people who are there because they want to inspire their kids, because they want to make a difference in their families and communities,” she says, “and I think I’m not really as different as I thought.”

“You seem so wise,” a listener says.

“Mostly I think I’m nuts,” Sherrie says. And we all laugh.

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