Lee Foster, Distinguished Grad, Avanti HS

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Lee Foster, Distinguished Grad, Avanti HS, 2008
Lee Foster has always been the type to forge their own path. The path that led to their current career was no different. Foster, a 2008 Avanti High School graduate, now works for the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services as an administrative assistant for the Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Organizational Development Team. Their many roles include being an advocate for equity, diversity and inclusion statewide, as well as organizing an annual conference to educate DSHS employees throughout the state about current issues and events regarding equity, diversity and inclusion.

Foster’s career path included stops at two different colleges, several restaurant jobs, a job as a tour guide in Hawaii, and a year studying sociology, business administration, and corporate culture in Japan. Foster chose to spend a year in Japan to further explore their own heritage.

As an Avanti student, Foster learned how to harness their unique potential, while also developing leadership skills and strength of character. Their passion for equity, diversity and inclusion was born at Avanti, Foster said. They recall principal Michael Velasquez encouraging them to explore their personal identity as a biracial Japanese American. Foster became one of the founding members and the president of the Mosaic Club at Avanti, a group that focused on equity, diversity and inclusion.

“That was the seed that was planted, my own exploration of my own self identity was really huge for me,” Foster said. “By looking inward, I was able to look outward in a bigger way.”

The teachers and staff at Avanti were like a family, Foster said. They learned about far more than just academics during their time there.

“I kind of came from a fairly broken family and I was raised my whole life to be almost fearful and distrusting of teachers. It was at Avanti, that for the first time, I felt that I wasn’t being talked down to. I felt more eye to eye with my teachers and I felt really genuinely loved and cared for by them,” Foster said.

Foster wasn’t too sure about school in general when they transferred to Avanti. Their mind changed when they learned that their teachers were invested in their social and emotional success just as much as their academic success.

Avanti Principal Michael Velasquez would say that Foster’s experience at Avanti fits with the climate that the school aims for.

“Avanti worked well for Lee because it was a place where Lee was accepted and adored by the staff.” Velasquez said. “It was a place where Lee was surrounded by friends that shared similar backgrounds and stories about the schools they came from. Avanti became a non-judgemental, caring, and safe space for Lee to grow into the natural leader they were always meant to be. It was a place where Lee's biracial heritage was acknowledged, embraced, and viewed as a strength. Avanti embraced all the quirky, and the cool things about Lee. It was a home away from home and Lee was and remains an important part of the Avanti family.”

The life lessons Foster learned at Avanti followed them. “I have a lot of good memories there,” Foster said about their time at Avanti. In particular, they recall learning a side lesson about forgiveness.

“I remember I was in history class and we were supposed to take a test and our history class had like eight students. It was teeny tiny and on the day we were supposed to take the test, half the class was absent and the others were arguing to not take the test,” Foster said.

Although they petitioned for a break, the teacher didn’t relent, Foster recalled. “Mr. Hendricks was like, ‘no you have to take this test,’” Foster said. “I just went and hid in the bathroom for the rest of the period.”

Foster crumpled up their test and stormed out of the classroom. The most impactful moment of their education came next. Lee came back and sincerely apologized to the teacher. “It was a lesson in and of itself that it’s good to apologize,” Foster said. “I just remember Mr. Hendricks saying that he really appreciated the apology. I wasn’t in any sort of trouble, I just took the test later as best as I could.”

That sort of forgiveness was something Foster hadn’t experienced before. “I think that’s why it was so impactful. Because yeah, coming from a broken home where I was in trouble all the time and apologies didn’t make it better, this was different,” they said. “There is forgiveness.”

In addition to learning about forgiveness, Foster learned about respect at Avanti. They were given more respect than they expected, for a student their age. They recall being on a team of students who helped select the next principal at Avanti.

“I was really flattered that my opinions were valued like that,” Foster said. “My teachers, not only did I trust them, but they also trusted me.”

As a student Foster remembers casting a vote for the next principal, Michael Velasquez. “First, I think it was really important to have a person of color in a leadership position,” Foster said. “Mr. Velasquez brought unique experiences and perspectives. He was so passionate as well, about diversity and equity. And I thought that really was important. His approach to all of that was very gentle and also very impactful. I just remember his kindness and his passion for equity and diversity and inclusion.”

Foster encourages any student who feels compelled to choose a unique path, to choose Avanti High School. “You don’t have to take the traditional route,” they said. “You can make your own path and it’s okay. Don’t let people dictate what you should or shouldn’t do with your education. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I didn’t take those paths.”

Distinguished Grads is a new series profiling graduates from our schools who model achievement in careers, hobbies or unique pursuits. If you know someone who should be considered for a profile, please email [email protected]. Please include contact information for the graduate.