Photo courtesy of Erica Wilson
This photo shows Erica Wilson at her own college graduation in 2013 from Dominican University in San Rafael.
East Palo Alto native Erica Wilson, who has found her life’s passion as a counselor at a residential facility for human trafficking survivors, will deliver the keynote address at the Mid-Peninsula High School graduation on Saturday, May 31, 4:30 p.m.
Wilson, 23, graduated from the small, private high school in Menlo Park in 2009 and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in communication and media studies from Dominican University in San Rafael. She is the first in her family to graduate from college and she plans to become a licensed social worker to help others find their way through their darkest times.
“A lot of my clients are from Oakland and San Francisco,” she said recently after a long day of counseling activities in a San Francisco Bay area facility for adult women.
Wilson’s responsibilities include helping residents to work on resumes and handle the tasks of their new lives and inspiring them to find a new passion for living. “I’m about giving them hope,” she said. “Telling them their life isn’t over and getting them to realize what their reality is at the moment.”
It is a weighty responsibility for a young woman who lives at home in East Palo Alto with her parents, brother and grandmother. But, it is “a heart happy type of job,” she said. “I’m a humanitarian. I got that from Mid-Peninsula. Everybody was so different as an individual that I had to find the good in everyone and work with it. I learned how to navigate with a diverse group of people.”
Douglas C. Thompson, the head of the school, said, “Erica represents the way and the degree to which we empower students to take control of their education and their own lives. She developed that sense of herself while she was a student here and that enabled her to become a significant force.”
Wilson first fell in love with counseling at Mid-Peninsula where she helped out with conflict resolution issues and supported her peers, who were going through tough times at home. She said, “The biggest thing I’ve learned is that you never know someone’s story so your interaction should be positive. Everybody’s going through something. If you can improve someone’s day by smiling, you should, because you don’t know what they have to go through.”
Wilson hopes to remind the new graduates of the importance of being themselves, following their own paths and remembering self care. She said that time management was one of her biggest challenges in college, noting that she was involved in student government and was the president of the Black Student Union, while also volunteering at a suicide prevention hotline and working as an office assistant.
Wilson currently volunteers as a college coach with the Foundation for a College Education, an East Palo Alto community youth program promoting college.
During Mid-Peninsula’s graduation ceremonies, Wilson will address 43 graduating Mid-Peninsula seniors, 40 of whom will attend college in the fall.
Thompson said. “They leave here with a sure knowledge of who they are as students and with a clear plan of how they’re going to pursue their goals.”
Wilson added another perspective. “After they graduate, it’s all about self discovery, finding their place in the world and being comfortable with who they are,” she said.
For more information about the Mid-Peninsula High School graduation, go to www.mid-pen.com.
Jennifer Pittman, the author of this article, can be reached by email at email@example.com