Meet Valerie E.

Business Administration Graduate

“I'm telling my story to make a difference in peoples' lives.”

"I consider myself to be a lotus," said Valerie Eagle. "A lotus comes up through the muck and the mire and when it gets to the surface and the light, it blooms and it is beautiful."

It's an apt metaphor for the 2017 Business Administration graduate, whose life has seen enough hardship and struggle to drown a thousand lotuses. Yet Valerie, who grew up in New York and New Jersey, says she has always held on to an internal spark – a deep-rooted belief that she could achieve something beyond the homelessness and multi-generational substance abuse that defined her early life. She was a lotus, she knew, and she would continue to grow.

"My childhood was terrible because of my mother's addiction," she explained. "Growing up, the circumstances I was living in made me feel worthless."

Valerie recounted an upbringing that included nearly every conceivable hardship of poverty and addiction. It's the kind of story that usually ends with the child following the parent down the same path of abuse and pain. That did happen for much of Valerie's young adulthood--and, in fact, while her mother eventually stopped abusing drugs, earned a college degree and began a life helping others as a social worker, Valerie continued down the path of addiction for much of her adult life.

After her mother's death, Valerie's life continued to spiral. A decade passed where she never left a four block radius in Spanish Harlem, addicted to crack and living on a rooftop, convincing herself that her "penthouse" living was normal.

Yet, still, the lotus remained inside her. The opportunity to move upstate and the chance to turn her life around through education helped her break the cycle of addiction. She made a conscious decision to surround herself with positive people, many of whom she found at Hudson Valley Community College.

Today, Valerie's life has become a different story: a success story.

She now looks to the future with a hopeful and unbounded optimism, and she's become a role model for fellow students. While others might feel shame about their past struggles with addiction, Valerie said she finds strength in telling her redemptive story and she hopes the simple acting of telling it can help others see beyond their past.

Her return to school as a business major is a practical nod to her future. Working with a business coach, she's created a fledgling company called "Hi Life Performances," which she hopes will allow her to tell her story and grow a business that combines empowerment and entrepreneurship. Her ultimate goal: to create a one-woman show within two years.

Valerie has already had several speaking engagements, including one at the well-known Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, and she regularly works with the group TMI Project to hone her storytelling craft. She also has been published in a well-received anthology of stories, titled "Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York."

"I'm telling my story to make a difference in peoples' lives," she said. "It opens up the healing and creates a dialogue among people. I cannot let my past define me. I hope to go wherever the door opens for me."