Editor’s Note: Despite the necessary adjustment to virtual instruction for part of this semester, more than 6,000 talented students will earn their degrees in May and move on to become the next generation of leaders in the Central Valley and beyond. While every hardworking graduate deserves to be recognized, for the rest of the semester we will be sharing the inspiring stories of graduates like this one who have achieved at the highest levels or have overcome remarkable challenges. As University President Joseph I. Castro previously announced, the University looks forward to celebrating all of its deserving graduates at an in-person ceremony at a later date when it is deemed safe to do so.
Colleen Busby’s 4-year-old brother, Ian, was killed in a drunk driving crash in Visalia 26 years ago.
When the woman who caused the crash came up for parole, Busby, who was then a high school senior, accompanied her mother to the hearing. That day changed her life.
“It was a very transformative moment for me,” Busby said. “It was the day I decided I wanted to be an attorney. Seeing the legal process firsthand was invigorating, and I was in love with the idea of representing those who did not have a voice. As our attorney was speaking for us, he was able to truly represent our feelings about what happened and what that meant to us.”
This May, Busby will graduate from Fresno State with a bachelor’s degree in political science. She will also be the first in her family to graduate with a college degree. Then it’s on to law school. The Visalia native was accepted to 11 graduate schools, including the University of Southern California, University of California, Berkeley, UCLA, UC Davis, UC Irvine, Duke University and Georgetown.
“I’ve had the same goal since I was in high school — going to law school — and I’ve been actively working towards it,” Busby said. “My brother’s death in a drunk driving accident was a direct reason or cause for me to pursue the study of law because I got to see how it helped my mother seek justice.”
Busby’s parents struggled with infertility for nine years before having her brother Ian. He was killed two weeks before his fifth birthday when a repeat drunk driving offender broadsided the car that his mother was driving home from work with him in it.
Busby was adopted as an infant several years after the accident, and following more years of failed infertility treatments. She’s grown up hearing stories about the crash, meeting the people involved in the trial and making connections that helped fuel her interest in law.
She participated in mock trial at Mt. Whitney High School in Visalia and continued when she arrived at Fresno State, where she is a Smittcamp Family Honors College scholar. Through mock trial, the attorney coaches helped Busby line up internships with the Fresno County Public Defender’s Office the summer after her freshman year and with the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office the past two years.
“My work experience in combination with my family experience, I think, has solidified my future in criminal law,” Busby said. “Being able to have such a direct trajectory because of my family history and my passion for it, I think, makes me a very unique law student because I’m so focused and eager.”
In addition to mock trial, Busby serves as historian of the Council of President’s Scholars for the Smittcamp Family Honors College, as a UCLA Central Valley Law Fellow and she was in the College of Social Sciences Honors Program this past year.
Political science professor Lisa Bryant said she could always count on Busby to show up to class and be ready to discuss any topic or argue a point of view without putting other people down.
“Colleen is a force to be reckoned with, but in the best possible way — she is strong, determined and passionate, and when Colleen sets her mind to something, there is no stopping her,” Bryant said. “She is thoughtful and diligent in her approach to work, extracurriculars and life … Her strategic and thoughtful approach to things will make her successful in law school, a career in law and beyond. I know Colleen plans to return to the Valley to practice law, and I have no doubt she will make us proud to have her as an alumnus.”