Seems strange that this well-known activist is just getting her degree at a time when some of her peers are starting to check 401(k)s and thinking of early retirement. That's because she entered life's race from a standing start--she grew up poor, a "Northridge street kid," a girl who never knew her father and seldom saw her mom. Her mother, now deceased, worked as a store clerk, and dad was . . . somewhere. She never saw his face and doesn't even know his name. If she had gotten into drugs at 15 and become a wasted life at 18, no social worker would have blinked. However, what saved her was a quick mind and strong constitution. So, in 1990, as a proud lesbian in her late 20s, she emerged from a series of minor public relations jobs to become perhaps the highest-profile woman in L.A., if only for a brief time.