Set Apart, and Soaring

When I started my freshman year of high school in 2012, I was determined to prove my academic potential—but I found myself pregnant at the age of 15. It felt like my life was over.

With the support of my parents, I finished high school while working 30 hours a week at a fast-food restaurant. Somehow, I graduated with honors, and to my disbelief I received a scholarship from the Ford Family Foundation to attend the University of Oregon.

I began at the UO in 2015 and continued to work in the evenings. In a typical day, I would wake up around 6:00 a.m., get myself ready, wake up my son, Landon, get him ready for daycare, and drop him off at 7:00 a.m. Then I would drive to campus, find parking, and get to my 8:00 a.m. class. I would have classes, with breaks, from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.; during breaks I would eat and do homework. After a day of classes, I would pick up my son and head home, spend some time with him, and then head off at 5:00 p.m. to work my closing shift at a coffee shop. I relied on my parents or my son’s father for childcare while I worked, and would return home and go to bed around 11:00 p.m. 

One of Carlile's works, a portrait of a tattooed woman.

I soon realized that I would never be a traditional college student. I would never live in a dorm, I would never join a sorority, I would never have the freedom that my peers did. I dreaded hearing the words “introduce yourself to the class” because I didn’t want anyone to know I was a mom.

Carlile's digital portrait of former President Barack Obama.

But in connecting with other Ford scholars, I met individuals who were talented, brave, persevering, multifaceted, and, like myself, didn’t fit in. I began to realize that none of us fit in, and that is what made us so special. 

As I finished my senior year, I found myself beginning to accept who I was. I realized that embracing what makes you unique shouldn’t be embarrassing—it should be empowering and liberating. Now I am pursuing my dreams as a freelance artist; I’m a vendor at Eugene Saturday Market and I sell my artwork online as posters, canvas prints, phone cases, T-shirts, stickers, and more.

I hope my pursuit of higher education, despite difficult circumstances, will inspire Landon to do the same. I teach him the value of education and I hope he will feel motivated to always do his best. Mostly, though, I hope he’ll feel comfortable doing what I did: being, unapologetically, yourself.

By Kayla Carlile, BA ’19 (Spanish), a freelance artist and Ford Family Foundation scholar who lives in Springfield, Oregon.