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Donor Support Makes Student's Dream a Reality

Development Communications | Feb. 7, 2012

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During a Faculty within Your Reach program on campus in January, Woodruff Fellow Molly Parmer 12L spoke about her personal connection to Campaign Emory. The event was sponsored by the Emory Alumni Association and Emory School of Law, where it was held. Here are her remarks.

For me, law school was supposed to be a pipe dream. It was supposed to remain a wistful, lofty ambition; one that required too much time and certainly too much money to ever seriously consider.

And to study law at a prestigious private school still seems so far beyond the bounds of my reality that, even now, in my third and final year at Emory University School of Law, things still seem dreamlike. But what was supposed to be a pipe dream has become a dream turned reality; one that I get to live every day. Undoubtedly what made this possible were generous donations to Campaign Emory, which fund student scholarships like the Woodruff Fellowship. Without the Woodruff Fellowship, I would never have been able to be in the place I am, less than one semester away from earning my JD from Emory Law.

Before I go into my background, I should preface it with this: Growing up in poverty is nothing unique. According to recent statistics, one out of every three children in America lives in poverty. And growing up in poverty certainly does not preclude one from having a good childhood or a loving childhood.

But, like many in this country, I did grow up very poor. I also grew up in a rather a nontraditional setting, the lovechild of a couple of countercultural hippies. My dad was an artist, renowned for illustrating Abbie Hoffman’s Steal this Book and being a psychedelic cartoonist extraordinaire. But despite his creative brilliance, he suffered from physical and mental illness, stints in jail, and problems with addiction. My mother was a writer by training, though employment in journalism seemed always hard to come by. She was a feminist, a free spirit, and, by all accounts, an excellent mother to my sisters and me. On one hand, my life was colorful and bohemian. There were paintings and art supplies everywhere; my mom sewed our clothes, backpacks, and bedding; we’d eat from giant batches of "peasant food," as my dad called it, one-pot meals that would last for a week and feed plenty. On the other hand, my life was limited. Getting injured did not mean I went to the doctor; a holiday did not mean gifts; and afternoons and weekends were spent not with friends, but working part-time jobs so I would have enough money for class field trips and orthodontic braces.

But education was always prioritized in my family, particularly by my mother. It was such a priority that, before my sisters and I started high school, she moved our family down to Georgia so that we would be eligible for the HOPE scholarship and could attend college tuition-free. Without a scholarship, both then and now, I would never have been able to go to school.

In college, I worked 40 hours a week in addition to taking full-time classes. After college, I worked full time as a special education teacher in Title 1 public schools and held two part-time jobs in the evenings and on weekends. I have never had a safety net of accessible money, the type you know you can get in case of emergency. My parents remain unemployed and struggle to make ends meet every day. Even though I have always taken great pride in my jobs, it has always been important that I think practically about working and make sure that not only was I taken care of but that others in my family were taken care of, as well.

I can’t pinpoint exactly how or why I started seriously considering law school. It was a combination of many things that led me to study for the LSAT and begin the application process. But I can pinpoint exactly when I knew that I would be able to attend law school. It wasn’t after my applications were submitted or when acceptances started rolling in. It was the moment I got a phone call from the admissions office at Emory Law, telling me that I was offered the Woodruff Fellowship and could attend law school tuition-free, with a stipend every semester. That phone call changed everything.

I am proof that donations to Campaign Emory change dreams into reality. Generous contributions have the potential to turn a girl with a homemade wardrobe and no cash for school field trips into a lawyer with a degree from a renowned institution. But I believe that the most important thing about contributing to the campaign and offering support like the Woodruff Fellowship is that it brings diversity to Emory. My perspective is different than that of many of my peers, as is my motivation and my goals as a future attorney. My plan is to be an advocate for the indigent. I plan to use my law degree to help those who are unable afford an attorney and work on behalf of those who need it most. But I can also say this: As soon as I get to a point in my career where I can give back to Emory, I certainly will. I know firsthand how life-changing these contributions can be, and I know that there will always be someone else out there, in my position, who thinks that law school will be nothing more than a dream deferred. And I know that something as simple as a financial contribution is all it takes to change that—to change a life of poverty into a life of possibility.