For Medical Assisting Valedictorian Louie Ferroggiaro, the Road to Recovery Leads to a Fresh Start, Academic Success and a New Career
When you picture a college class valedictorian, it’s a safe bet you don’t envision Louie Ferroggiaro.
When he earned that distinction last July, finishing at the top of his Medical Assisting class at Carrington’s Mesa, Arizona campus, perhaps no one was more surprised than Louie himself.
Forty-four years old and heavily tattooed, Louie’s path to Carrington College was riddled with detours and dead ends. A recovering addict who struggled with substance abuse for 23 years, Louie says the fresh start he created for himself at Carrington was a true game changer.
“I feel like a cat with nine lives,” says Louie. “I’m not sure which life I’m currently on, but I’m grateful every day to be clean and sober and to finally be doing something positive and productive with my life.”
When Louie took a ten-minute walk from his apartment to the Mesa campus back in the fall of 2019 to learn more about Carrington’s programs, he says he knew it was time to make major life changes and to start living differently.
“I had plenty of proof that I could mess things up and make bad choices, but I also knew in my gut that I was capable of so much more,” Louie recalls. “When I’m clean, I’m unstoppable. I felt like the time had finally come to work for all those things I said I wanted, and to change the habits and behaviors that weren’t making me happy.”
Louie says he was also tired of struggling financially.
“I always wanted all the money and toys that come from working hard, but I didn’t want to actually do the work,” he says. “I would get jobs and then quit them after a few months, so I was often unemployed for long stretches. But 16 months ago, I decided it was time to prove to myself that I could be more than a statistic.”
Louis says he’s a big believer in second, third, and even fourth chances. In fact, he doesn’t want to imagine where he might be without them.
“For me, Carrington was the right place with the right program at the right time,” he explains. “I knew the way things were going in my life wasn’t leading anywhere good. For most of my life, I didn’t have a sense of direction or enough self-esteem and self-confidence to stay focused on a goal. Throwing myself into the Medical Assisting program is the best thing I’ve ever done. It lit a fire within me and gave me a purpose.”
While it isn’t the first time Louie has pursued an education, he says it’s the first time he’s succeeded.
“I took a few community college classes years ago, but I stopped going,” Louie recalls. “A few years later, I enrolled at a culinary academy in San Francisco, but I started partying and using, so that ended that. This is the first time I’ve ever set a goal and followed through to actually make it happen.”
To say he followed through would be an understatement. In fact, he excelled. With a perfect 4.0 GPA and a perfect attendance record, Louie received Presidential Honors and was invited to be a featured speaker at Carrington’s graduation ceremony in December. In his speech, Louis talked about breaking stereotypes, facing adversity, changing perceptions, and proving to himself and others that “I wasn’t the person everyone thought I was.”
After graduating, Louie landed a job in Phoenix at 2nd Chance Treatment Center, which provides outpatient treatment for clients with opioid and alcohol addictions. “I think it was the perfect first job for me as a Medical Assistant,” he says. “I understand how to connect with people who are struggling. I know what they’re going through.”
While Louie enjoyed working with a client population that he calls “my people,” he made a career move in January to a better paying position as a traveling Medical Assistant. He works with a team that travels throughout the Phoenix area, visiting senior citizen communities and nursing facilities to administer COVID tests and vaccines.
Even though he’s landed two jobs as a Medical Assistant since completing his program, Louie says he understands that potential employers might have concerns about hiring someone with a long history of drug addiction. It’s why, he says, he believes that honesty is the best policy.
“I kept too many secrets for too many years,” he says. “That’s why I want to be up front and honest about my past. I’m willing to take a drug test any time I’m asked, because I understand why an employer might be concerned. More than most people, I realize I have to earn respect and trust.”
Louie says that while he’s slipped and stumbled more times than he cares to remember, he values the clean slate and fresh start too much to go back.
“For the first time in a long time, I feel normal, healthy and happy,” he says. “I know a lot of people might take those things for granted. But to me, it feels like a dream.”