Dear President Obama,
Thank you for your service to this country. Unlike many others, I am generally pleased with your performance. There are a few things I would have done a bit differently, but I will save that for a later date. I’m here to talk to you about higher education.
I am a third year law student at one of the most prestigious law schools in the nation. I play by the rules — perfect attendance in the third grade, honor roll student in high school, a member of the honors fraternity in college, etc. I study. I work hard. I volunteer. I did everything I was supposed to do, and yet in two months, I will graduate from law school with an accumulated total of over a quarter million dollars in student loans.
This fall, I will take a very low paying public service legal fellowship in Washington, DC. I am committed to and passionate about the work I will do, but I will struggle to put food on the table. I will struggle to pay my electric bill. I will struggle to pay for health insurance. I will struggle to pay my loans. I will live in a one-bedroom apartment with a roommate. I will survive. But I will struggle.
When people hear my story, they feel no sympathy. They say, “No one told you to go to law school. You chose to get a degree.” These people are correct. I did choose to go to law school. I chose to go because I was promised that with determination, perseverance, and hard work, I could achieve the American Dream. I was told that women and minorities are underrepresented in the legal profession, and that I could make a difference. I was told that if I ever wanted to become the president of the United States, I had to get my legal degree — just like you.
In 2008, you promised me I would be given an affordable education if I voted for you. Remember? In your own words: “We know that in a global economy that’s more connective and more competitive that we’re the party that will guarantee every American an affordable, world-class, life-long, top-notch education…” I believed you.
My story is not unique. I am the product of a broken economy and a struggling middle class whose parents make too much for them to receive a free education, yet not enough to fund the outrageous cost of higher education. We are stuck in limbo with no way out. How will we buy property when we can’t afford to pay our bills? How will we pay for our children’s education if we can’t afford to pay for our own? It’s not easy to win a race when you’ve started a quarter of a million paces behind.
My heart weeps for the millions of brilliant children in this world who will miss out on countless opportunities because they lack the formal training and education. Since when do we live in a country where we have to pay for success? Why didn’t you tell us that the American Dream is not for all of us? You promised us you would make a difference, so make a difference. We’re waiting.
Kiara Imani Williams, future J.D.