Social Work Graduate Beats the Odds

Posted: May 13, 2014 at 5:00 am, Last Updated: May 14, 2014 at 6:14 am

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By Corey Jenkins Schaut

Mason senior Cordelia Cranshaw has a life motto that she lives every day: “Persevering through life with infinite hope that my dreams become reality.” When the Alexandria native graduates with her bachelor of social work on Saturday, she will realize one of those dreams as she, a former foster child, defies the odds and earns a college degree.

Cordelia Cranshaw

Social work graduate Cordelia Cranshaw will starting working on her master of social work degree in the fall. Photo by Evan Cantwell.

“Only 3 percent of foster youth graduate college,” she says. “I’m about to get my master’s degree by the time I’m 23.” Cranshaw begins the master of social work program at the University of Maryland–Baltimore this fall.

Cranshaw’s path hasn’t been easy. When she was 12, her mother went to prison, scattering her and her siblings among relatives. During middle school, she attended four different schools. She struggled with her emotions and was nearly expelled after an altercation with another student. She eventually entered the foster care system at age 14. There, she found some stability and was able to focus on her education.

“People look at me like I’m crazy when I say that foster care was a positive for me,” she says. “It changed my life. I know what I want to be when I grow up: an advocate.”

Cranshaw plans to start a nonprofit organization called ARK, or “Acts of Random Kindness,” to provide hope to foster and underprivileged youth.

“A lot of times growing up, I didn’t even have a birthday cake,” she says. “Just making a kid feel special will make a difference.”

Cranshaw aged out of the foster care system last summer, and scholarship support enabled her to finish her education. She earned the John J. Hughes Social Work Scholarship from Mason, as well as the Beat the Odds Scholarship from the Alexandria Bar Association. This spring, she told her story at Mason’s scholarship dinner.

“I’ve really felt honored this past year at Mason,” she says. “It makes me feel like this is my university, and I made an impact.”

Write to Corey Jenkins Schaut at

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