Meet Our Latest OppU Achiever: Anthony O’Leary!
Name: Anthony O’Leary
High School: Kearny High School Digital Media & Design
Expected College Graduation Date: June 2023
Expected Major: Management/Public Relations
We’re pleased to announce our next scholarship recipient—an inspiring student who overcame adversity to find his voice.
The next recipient of the $2,500 OppU Achievers Scholarship, Anthony O’Leary, found his voice amidst a difficult period in the foster care system. Now, he works to ensure that other foster youth can reclaim their own voices.
As a speaker with Voices for Children, Anthony is spreading awareness about a program that changed his own life. Voices for Children is a multi-issue advocacy organization dedicated to helping foster care youth navigate the system with the help of a court appointed special advocate (CASA). CASAs act as neutral people in the jumble of social workers and court proceedings, and they can have a big impact supporting their foster youth. Anthony’s CASA, Daniel, was one of these people. He came into Anthony’s life at a tumultuous point. Through Daniel’s outgoing demeanor he became a trusted adult—able to ensure that Anthony’s voice was being heard. Voices for Children provides plenty of volunteer opportunities, especially within Anthony’s San Diego community, and so he eagerly joined.
Speaking publicly at fundraisers and other events, Anthony has become a representative of sorts on behalf of other foster youth. However, his journey to find his voice wasn’t an easy one.
While in the foster care system, Anthony didn’t feel like his voice was being heard. He felt silenced while major decisions about his life were left to social workers and other adults. Who would have guessed that a few years later he’d reclaim his voice and be speaking on a public platform as a youth leader?
One of the benefits of joining Voices for Children is their public speaking class. Anthony was terrified of speaking in front of large crowds, so he enrolled in the week-long training program to practice his introduction and learn how to respond to common questions asked of panelists. Beyond improving his speaking abilities, the training benefited Anthony in his social life and in English class.
How does Anthony balance school, sports, and service work? Lots of prioritization. While difficult at first, he soon realized that in order to accomplish certain goals he must rank commitments. For example, he favors attending speaking events even if it means missing basketball practice.
Looking toward the future, Anthony has big plans for the next four years.
Brimming with nerves and excitement for the college application cycle, Anthony knows that college will be a life-changing experience. While he hasn’t settled on a dream school yet, he has toured a few campuses in Texas and California offering sports management degrees. Eventually, he’d like to bring his skills and dedication back to his San Diego community, volunteer, and even become a CASA himself, noting that he knows firsthand how much of an impact they can make in a foster child’s life.
Anthony discovered young that the challenges he faced only made him a stronger person.
When he reflects on where he started and the opportunities that have opened up to him since, Anthony finds himself at a loss for words. The young boy that used music as a getaway now wants to take advantage of a world of possibility to bring hope to other kids. One goal is establishing a studio for foster youth to express their innermost feelings through music.
“Without it—all of the different things I’ve struggled with in life—I don’t think I would be where I am, honestly,” he said.
He views his early life as the catalyst that molded him into who he is—a thoughtful, mature, and passionate young man.
Read Anthony’s essay below to be just as awe-struck as we are at his relentless spirit and extraordinary accomplishments.
William Samuel Johnson once made a statement, “He knows not his own strength who hath not met adversity.” I have spent one-third of my life in foster homes due to abuse by my parents. My mother had me at 15, and punished me for “ruining” her life. When she left, my father was a single parent and high school dropout with few opportunities, thus his anger was directed at me. My second trip to the child protective system was my last and I ended up in a loving home.
In looking back at the person I was at age 12, turmoil surrounded me. I heard that I wasn’t college material, I had no mother in my life, I had a father that was angry at me, I thought little of myself, and I had no contact with my little brother for a year. The easiest path would have been to choose anger and bitterness, and give up. Instead, I volunteered to help those agencies that helped me along the way. My character and strength developed out of my struggles.
During this time, a lot of agencies offered me support, so at age 13, I contacted them and offered my support. At first, I was nervous, but suddenly my problems started fading as I started volunteering. The community servant in me was born. I joined a panel of foster youth to help recruit advocates. I gave keynote speeches at fundraising events that raised more than two million dollars. Suddenly, community leaders wanted to speak to me and my story of triumph inspired others. At age 14, the mayor of San Diego appointed me to the San Diego Youth Commission. I founded my own organization, “Elevate Foster Youth,” which is designed to provide referrals or resources to foster youth. My current project is developing a music studio where foster youth can record their own music, expressing their innermost feelings about their lives. I was one of five students nationally to receive a $2,000 grant towards my work through a Power of Children Award. Later, I was interviewed by a local news station as a Voices for Children advocate.
My experiences have made me a better person. I have developed a keen sense of humor, which not only helped me through tough times, but it helps me each day in my interaction with others. I have worked with and met diverse groups of people from all walks of life, polishing my communication skills at every turn. When faced with obstacles that may seem impossible to many, I feel little trepidation and I am happy to meet the challenges. Personally, I have compassion for others and a desire to help those less fortunate. Finally, I am determined to succeed. I am excited to begin college in the fall of 2019 and work towards a career in a management field that will utilize my strengths. In thinking of that Samuel Johnson quote, I have met adversity and I am stronger because of it.
Could you or someone you know use $2,500 for tuition? The OppU Achievers Scholarship is awarded quarterly to high school seniors, college students, graduate students, and students in trade or professional programs. To apply, submit a short essay through our web portal.