People have a lot of opinions about money. In our “Money Mic” series, we hand over the podium to someone with a strong opinion on a financial topic. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses.
Today, Joi Gordon, C.E.O. for the national nonprofit organization Dress for Success Wordwide, shares how she earned a law degree and, later, landed a high-profile dream job—all with a state school education (and no student loan debt).
For my Caribbean family, college was the golden ticket. As the first generation to attend college in the United States, I knew that my family wasn’t too familiar with the ins and outs of the application process. But my parents, ever the hardworking and sacrificing types, promised to pay out-of-pocket for my first year of school, so I needed to find a place that we could all afford—a five-star education on a budget.
A school like Harvard or Yale just wasn’t a reasonable option. I knew the Ivies were out there, but I didn’t dare apply because their price tags were more than my parents could afford. And, quite frankly, those schools just weren’t on my radar at the time.
Living in the Midwest, you hear a lot about the big state colleges. I don’t think people outside the Midwest and the South can fully appreciate how much loyalty and excitement high school students feel when choosing to attend their state university. In Oklahoma, you either want to be a Sooner (University of Oklahoma) or a Cowboy (Oklahoma State University). It isn’t if you will go to college, but which college you will choose. For me, it was the University of Oklahoma all the way. Though the college campus was big, it still felt very welcoming. And the location was perfect: close to home, but still a few hours away.
When I was growing up, my mom worked very hard. My parents were divorced and she had custody of me, but my dad was definitely in the picture: He was there for me both emotionally and financially. For a time, we all lived in New York City and I saw my dad every weekend. Then, my mother and I moved to Oklahoma where the cost of living was cheaper and my mom could work “smarter, not harder,” she said. (These days, they call that work-life balance.)
“When I graduated, I worked in a district attorney’s office where my colleagues who had attended Yale Law School and Georgetown Law were $100,000 in debt from getting their law degrees.”
My way of repaying my parents, so that their work wasn’t in vain, was to do well in school and achieve success. With them covering my freshman-year college tuition, I applied to become a resident adviser so my housing costs would be free. I majored in journalism, which, for me, was an opportunity to speak the truth and be a voice for those who are silenced. Through being an RA and other leadership positions I sought out on campus, my college pointed me toward scholarships, which paid for my next three years of tuition.