When I decided to go to law school as a single mom, a lot of people were excited for me and a lot of people thought I was making a huge mistake. I was told I was being irresponsible, that I was being selfish, that I should wait until the kids were older, and that I should continue to work my low paying job and receive food stamps until I could marry a guy who could take care of us.
I went anyway because I dreamed of taking care of myself. The whole time I was in school I was scared of the people who said I couldn’t, or I shouldn’t, or that it was a mistake, or that I’d regret it.
The people in my life who believed in me kept me alive and moving forward for those three years: my parents, my siblings, my extended family and relatives, my church, my professors, my classmates, my children, my friends. Very few single moms who start school are able to finish. I finished because the right people stepped in to help me every time I was about to fail.
One day, shortly after graduation, I wore my law school t-shirt to the grocery store. My kids were with me and a man approached us. He pointed at my t-shirt and asked, “Did you go to law school?”
I was pleased because usually I’m asked if my husband went to law school. I told the man, “Yes, I did.”
He asked, “Was it expensive?”
“Who’s going to help you pay for all those loans?”
I was beginning to feel less flattered. I told him, “I don’t think anyone will.”
“Good,” he said. Then, just before walking away, he shook his finger at me and said, “You need to learn responsibility.”
I was too stunned to come up with a clever reply. My daughter looked confused and asked, “Why is that man so grumpy?”
It’s been over a year now and I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what transpired.
It’s true I have huge loans.
It’s also true that I have a good job and that I have not applied for or received government welfare since my graduation.
I wish I could go back in time and tell that man, and everyone else who wags their finger at me, “You’re welcome.”
Divorce is one of the leading causes of bankruptcy in our country. Women are more likely than men to have bachelor’s degrees that lead to low paying jobs. In fact, most women will need a bachelor’s degree to earn the equivalent of a man with an associate degree.
I wanted to provide for my family and I dragged myself and my kids through three years of hell to get there. I was so deeply impoverished that I sold my children’s toys, our kitchen table, our pet dog, and more, until my children would start pointing to different things around the house and asking me what I was going to sell next. I donated plasma twice a week, praying that I wouldn’t throw up until after I’d left the donation center because, if phlebotomists saw me throw up, they would make me wait two weeks before letting me come back. I lived off three to four hours of sleep a night, made my children sit with me through months of night classes, and took them to the law school on weekends where they played quietly for hours so I could use the internet when our home internet was canceled for nonpayment.
Three years of living like that was hard on me and it was hard on my kids.
Then we graduated. I passed the bar exam. I got a great job. I will never shop with food stamps again. I am done applying for government assistance with housing, childcare, and Medicaid.
My sacrifices and hard work will save the state of Utah tens of thousands of dollars in public welfare spending. I also pay a heck of a lot more state and federal taxes. My contributions will increase as my experience increases. My legal skills and knowledge make me a valuable resource to individuals in my community. My children have learned the value of hard work, sacrifice, and an education. They are growing up knowing that they can do hard things.
So, yes, going to law school means I have student debt.
But, to that old man and to anyone else out there who feels tempted to criticize women like me, I say, “You’re welcome. And I hope you’ve learned something about responsibility.”
Author: Lisa Sledge