“Beyond My Mother’s Dreams”
The campaign has made BU more accessible to students from all backgrounds, including first-generation students. A first-gen college and law school graduate shares her journey.
My mother’s story was the impetus for my wanting to go to law school and do women’s empowerment work. My father lost his job during the economic recession in the early 2000s. He started drinking too much. There was a period of domestic violence when he was abusive toward all of us. We ended up having to flee our home. I was 12 years old when my parents were divorced. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer the same year.
She was always working at least three jobs. She cleaned houses, she was a substitute teacher at the local elementary school, a hostess at a restaurant. We were on food stamps and every other form of public assistance. Our town, Raynham, Mass., held three fundraisers so we wouldn’t lose our house. I never saw being poor as a liability. It makes you very resourceful. I’ve been working since I was 12—babysitting, nannying, working the concession stand at the town pool. Once I was old enough, I started working as a waitress at Stoneforge, in Raynham, where my mother was a hostess. I know the ins and outs of Medicare and all that sort of stuff. I had to fill out my own FAFSA (federal student aid applications) for college. I did them for my sisters, too.
My mother forced me to apply to Harvard. I told her, ‘Mom, I’m not a Harvard kid.’ I had great grades, I was number seven in my class. I couldn’t afford SAT coaching. I took every AP course I could. I’d make little spreadsheets with the minimum scores I needed to hit.
The year after I graduated from Harvard, my mom passed. She was 52. She had metastatic breast cancer. Luckily, I had a job—I was working as a paralegal in the district attorney’s office in Manhattan—and I used Family and Medical Leave Act benefits as well as my saved overtime to take off three months so I could be with my mother, who was in a hospice care facility. My middle sister, Erin, had just graduated from college; my youngest sister, Molly, was a junior in high school.
I ended up spending three years at the district attorney’s office. I had to apply to law school twice. BU made a big impression on me when I was making my decision on law schools because the school had so many female faculty and leaders. Also, LAW offered financial aid. Financial aid means greater freedom to pursue your passions during law school and expand yourself beyond the ideal candidate checklist. I went to Detroit to help victims of the housing crisis. I went to Greece to work in a refugee camp. I did an unpaid federal judicial internship. I think my exploration makes me a better lawyer—and human being—in the long run.
Law school is a full-time job, but a lot of first-gen students have family responsibilities on top of school. My first year I was really sick. I was suffering from depression, and still am to a certain extent, over losing my mother. I couldn’t eat, I lost 15 pounds. I was trying to keep everything moving forward at home. Molly was graduating from high school. Erin was working as an assistant teacher for children with special needs.
I’m excited about working at the firm Fried Frank in Manhattan. They have a great training program for associates and a great pro bono program with Her Justice, a domestic violence group. I am going into private practice now so I can help my sister Molly afford to apply to medical school. I want to make sure that she feels supported enough to really swing for it and reach her full potential.
It is beyond my mother’s dreams for us that I have a law degree. I think she would be happy knowing that our challenges while I was growing up became an inspiration to me and hope for others.