My name is Jessica and I am a student at UC Denver.
I first entered college 18 years ago full of hope and little else. Partly motivated by the desire to be the first in my family to graduate from college and primarily motivated by the need to prove to my small hometown that I was going to be somebody. I set about become a lawyer.
In hindsight, it was relatively uncomplicated. Though my parents couldn’t contribute financially, I had few obligations outside of completing my education and working part time as a telemarketer. Being told ‘no’ thousands of times probably fortified my character, but I would be lying to represent that I had any use for the journey. The journey was not my goal, nor was my contribution to humanity, nor any other quasi-noble pursuit. I plowed through each day for the sake of two visuals: watching my mother glow with pride as I accepted my Juris Doctorate and pulling into my high school reunion in a shiny, new BMW with business cards that read “Lawyer.”
Unfortunately, I foolishly underestimated the bill that accompanied CU non-resident status. When I couldn’t come up with tuition, I was forced to drop out.
I planned on waiting out the residency requirement, but life has a funny way of taking over. Paying rent left little to pay for college, and before long, my degree and law school seemed distant memories.
My path wasn’t the easiest, but I made it my own. I was passed over for promotions because they required degrees, and I worked harder for less. Months of temporary work turned into years of permanent work, but that time shaped me in ways I have come to appreciate.
An unlikely opportunity led me to become a community organizer tasked with sharing development impacts with communities often left out of the process. I taught myself Spanish so that I could provide a voice for those who had none. I experienced victories and losses, but most importantly, I experienced beautiful people. I sat with those who had far less than I, yet they didn’t hesitate to share their only meal. In those moments, I would think of how much more I could be doing for them with a law degree.
Marcel Proust once said, “We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.”
I am eternally grateful that I was not spared my journey. Today, I stand motivated by reasons that fill me with pride.
I will not be the first in my family to obtain a degree. That distinction belongs to my younger sister who earned her doctorate in a medical field at age 32, just last May. Attending her graduation served as the single most important event in reawakening my career goals. She inspired me with her words and actions to complete my own education, and I enrolled a few weeks later.
This time certainly is more complicated. My husband and daughter have given up income and precious family time. I now work only part time and take a full course load. There is barely enough to meet our basic expenses and none left over, but as parents we believe that the example I am setting far outweighs the material.
Last year, I re-entered college full of hope and wisdom. I work harder, appreciate more and no longer care about what reaction my car invokes. I value the importance of caring about others more than myself, and I will be defined by what I give back to both my family and community who have given so very much to me.
Find out about the 'Complete Colorado Campaign,' which enables students like Jessica to finish their degrees.