I grew up the eldest of six children in a working class home in rural Illinois. My father was an auto mechanic and my mother worked in the home full-time. Given our socio-economic status, and my parents' lack of college education, I had little practical guidance or financial support for applying to college as well as grad school and law school. I always worked while studying to make ends meet. Throughout all of my educational experiences, I faced the challenge of how to pay for my education and support myself. I also faced the challenge of having to be self-reliant and figure things out on my own.
On a personal level, I faced the challenge of feeling alone and isolated. In the classroom, I faced the challenge of engaging in intellectual conversation on topics that I had never been exposed to growing up. My advice to first gen students is to not be afraid to reach out for help‐there are many who want to support you in various ways. Ask a lot of questions and never give up. Above all, believe yourself and go after your dreams‐you have what it takes and have come so far already.
I was raised by a single mother. My mom had been trained as a nurse before she married my father. My father was killed in service when I was thirteen months old. We lived in Inglewood, California until I was 11, at which we moved to Chicago, where both of my parents had been raised.
Not having someone in the family who had gone through the college experience, let alone a professional school such as a law school, meant that there were inevitably times when you find yourself in a situation where you are uncomfortable because it is new but for most of your friends it is old hat. This ranges from small things such as what to wear to an interview to larger concerns such as how do you interact with senior leaders in a professional setting. The things that many of my colleagues picked up through osmosis I had to learn, often through trial and error.
My mom and dad met in junior college. They both completed AA degrees after I was born, the oldest of six children. My mom continued on part time over the years and was awarded her bachelor's degree the same year I received mine. My parents always prized education and encouraged my brothers and sisters and me to pursue it, but they were not really in a position to help me navigate the entire financial aid process, apply to graduate or law school, or try to choose a school. So, there was a lot about becoming a professional where I could have benefited from guidance to which classmates whose parents had graduate or professional degrees had access. I don't think I realized until I became a law professor that faculty are actually glad to see students in office hours ‐ at least my colleagues and I here at the Gould School of Law are! Meeting with professors is a great way to check your understanding of material as a class goes on, clear up any confusion you might have (even if you hadn't realized it), and give faculty a chance to get to know you better. This can be very valuable when you need references or recommenders for fellowships, judicial clerkships, or other jobs.
No one in my family had ever gone away to college til I did. My mother went to community college at age 32 after my parents divorced, and eventually finished a four year degree while working full time and taking care of her four kids singlehandedly. My father went to college on the GI Bill and although he had an MBA by the time I was going to college, he had done it all at night, at local schools, with nothing like the experiences I had going away to a private school. Having grown up in a very wealthy town (in a very poor family), the conspicuous wealth of many fellow students didn't shock me as much as it might have otherwise. And it was not hard to fit in in my small liberal arts college where the surrounding town didn't offer much to anyone in the way of entertainment or shopping. The challenges of friendships across class and economic boundaries in a city like Los Angeles are greater.
My strongest advice to first generation students is to believe in yourselves, find out what matters to you, and pursue that with the grit and dedication that got you here, even if it's hard for your family to understand your choices. For me, that meant not selecting a path based on whether it offered the most financial security, despite how painfully elusive the idea of financial security was in my family. For others, it may mean pursuing the means to take care of family members or give them opportunities. Remember that the education you're getting in law school can lead in many directions, and you don't have to pick only one. Whatever your path, you can find peers and mentors here by reaching out.