It was an unmistakably confident title for a scholarship application essay: Success Is Certain.
It’s also an ironic title when you consider that the applicant, Casey Van Ross, 18, has been a dependent of the court for most of the last three years. He has suffered physical abuse, abandonment, abduction, depression, and dislocation. But Casey also has an invaluable personality trait: an indomitable spirit.
He has a dream, as well—to become a recording artist and start his own hip-hop label. And to that end, he recently submitted the aforementioned application to CASA of Los Angeles’s Aaron Ruben Scholarship Fund for help in attending the Musicians Institute, in Hollywood.
In his essay, he quickly demonstrated that there’s nothing naïve about his optimism.
I have had experiences that were far from enjoyable. Abusive parents, moving around, suffering homelessness, being hospitalized, having my life threatened, becoming a ward of the court…but this fuel gives me the strength to try my hardest to overcome any and every obstacle thrown in my way.
Casey’s Court Appointed Special Advocate, Elois McGehee, a former high school principal, has been around teenagers for decades, but she has never met one with so much resilience.
“He shakes off disappointments,” she says, citing as an example his senior prom experience. “When his friends all flaked on him at the last minute, he took the bus to the event, alone. He’s unafraid. He just keeps moving forward.”
And if setbacks are his fuel, then music is his vehicle.
“Casey has known he wants to be in the music business since he was ten years old,” Elois says. “I don’t think he’ll let anything stop him.”
Along with the will to succeed, he has a career plan, something he described in detail in his essay: a certificate in independent artistry within three years, an internship at a record company, a songwriting deal followed by a recording contract, and his own record label within ten years.
I have the ambition, the determination, and the plans. I just need the funds.
The Aaron Ruben Scholarship Fund was established to provide financial support to foster youths pursuing higher education. Known widely for his illustrious career as a Hollywood writer, director, and producer, the late Aaron Ruben also was a longtime Court Appointed Special Advocate for CASA of Los Angeles. He established and endowed the scholarship fund in 1999, and since then it has disbursed nearly $150,000 to 68 awardees.
In early October, Casey got word that he was one of six foster children who were awarded Aaron Ruben Scholarships this year. Along with financial aid from the school, a loan, and the funds he will receive through California’s AB 12 law—which provides living expenses to former foster children ages 18 to 20—the scholarship will help cover tuition, musical equipment, and supplies.
Now just a few weeks into classes at the Musicians Institute, Casey is already collaborating with other songwriters and making connections with representatives for many of his favorite rappers and the most successful record labels.
“I love the diversity of it. Yesterday I was rapping for a gospel singer,” he says. “I’m getting so much feedback. When I was sitting alone at home this summer, my songs weren’t really flowing, but now I pump out a new song every other day.”
Indeed, as he prepares to leave his foster home and move into transitional housing next month, school is providing him with a new family and support system.
“I have all the help I need now. I just have to utilize it.”