‘…Until You Just Do It, Nothing Will Happen,’ Ivy White (J.D./M.B.A. ’16)
My road to, and through, law school was a little different from many law students, so I am honored to have the opportunity to not only represent my class today, but also to share some of my story with you.
A few years ago, I came across a quote that would change the way I looked at my life, and my future career, forever: “Don’t you dare shrink yourself for someone else’s comfort. Do not become small for people who refuse to grow.”I spent a good part of my life shrinking myself and making myself small. I had always wanted to go to law school, but I kept doubting myself. In 2009, just before I finally graduated from undergrad, I met Dr. Cheryl Jester-George at a graduate school fair. For those of you who don’t know Dr. George, she is our Director of Admissions. I told her I was interested in law school, but I had kids … and a husband and a job … and a few other excuses. She asked me why I devalued myself so much, and told me that I should be proud of all of the things I had described as disadvantages, because they make me who I am.
That really resonated with me, but it still took two more years of going to these law school events and seeing her recognizing smile before she finally pulled me to the side and said, “You haven’t applied yet? You don’t want to go to law school, because if you did, you’d just do it!” And she was right.
What I learned from her that day is best stated in another quote that got me through law school and studying for the bar: “the dream is free, but the hustle is sold separately.” No matter how much you dream, until you just do it, nothing will happen. So, I finally stopped shrinking myself and just did it.
I applied to Georgia State Law, and only to Georgia State Law, because I wanted to go to a school where the things that made me diverse were seen as assets, not liabilities. And I decided that if I wasn’t accepted to Georgia State, then I just wasn’t meant to go to law school.
So, here I am, seven years after Dr. George essentially told me to stop shrinking myself, four years after I added some hustle to my dream and just did it, and three years after being accepted into the most challenging yet rewarding experience of my life (yes, childbirth is tough but law school is worse). Here I am, no longer shrinking myself, as a graduate, with a Juris Doctor, a Master’s of Business Administration, those four kids, that same husband, and a job.
Here we ALL are.
People tell me my story is inspiring, but it’s a truly a testament to my family, my classmates, and the faculty and staff of Georgia State Law. Many of my classmates would say “I don’t know how you do it,” but I look at them and say the same thing. I’m one of many parents here, some single parents, some who became parents during law school, and some who have suffered unspeakable loss … but they all still just did it.
Many of my classmates worked full-time or part-time and went straight to class after work. Many of my classmates have worked extremely hard to be leaders in their organizations, or be at the top of the class. (After experiencing the Rule Against Perpetuities on Professor Mattingly’s final, and the 800,000 issues on Professor Kinkopf’s Con Law final, I came to terms with the fact that being at the top of the class wasn’t going to be my thing).
I could go on and on about how we inspire each other with our diverse experiences. That’s not something you find at every law school, but Georgia State cultivates it.
So, thank you, Dean Kaminshine, for setting the tone. Thank you, Dean Sobelson for expecting the best not only from us, but also for us. You’re like that parent who’s really hard on us, but you’re always there when we need you. Dean Cino, you have some big shoes to fill, but if you can teach me Contract Damages, I’m convinced you can do anything.
Thank you, Dean Timmons, for being such a caring Dean, a dynamic professor, and most notable for me, an unapologetic mother (and Diet Coke fan). And thank you, Dean Hensel. I didn’t get the opportunity to have you as a professor, but I’ve heard your reputation for not only being a brilliant and awesome professor, but also for being instrumental in encouraging many of my classmates through their lowest points in law school. Thank you to all of the deans, professors, staff, and thank you to my classmates, for making Georgia State Law a school which I couldn’t be prouder to call my alma mater.
I technically graduated in December, so I’ve already taken the February bar. On the first day of bar prep, we were assigned an introductory video. In the video, they talked about what an accomplishment it was to even be studying for the bar, and it made me take a step back and realize how honored and privileged I was in that moment. It’s ironic because, not too many years ago, “privileged” is one of the last words I would have used to describe myself: I was pregnant with my first child at 19 years old, and, several times, needed Medicaid and food stamps to make ends meet. I spent so much of my life seeing myself as a statistic, a disappointment — and now, I’m “privileged.”
Despite the sweat and tears of law school and bar prep, we should ALL feel honored and privileged. Many people don’t graduate from high school, even more don’t make it through college, and most are not even accepted into law school. The vast majority of people do not hold a Juris Doctor, and for those of us with a J.D. and an MBA, we’re even fewer and farther between.
So, at some point between complaining about law school and complaining about the bar, be sure to take a step back and absorb all that we’ve accomplished, and be humbled by those accomplishments. And then be humbled by those around us who held us up during this process.
My time is probably almost up, but I can’t sit down without thanking my husband, who seemed not to mind when I made him sleep alone when I was pulling all-nighters; who pretended to be interested when I walked around like a mad scientist explaining things he didn’t care about, like actus reus and mens rea; who worked 60 and 70 hour weeks to support our family when I couldn’t work or could only work part-time; and who held me when I cried from being overwhelmed and exhausted, because “law school wasn’t designed for people like me” – but who never let me quit.
Thank you to my kids, Donnell, Ty-Ci, Craig Jr., and Bailey, for being my judges when I prepared for oral arguments, and interrupting me with surprisingly good questions; for playing my witnesses when I was practicing direct and cross examinations for mock trials; for reading me cases for class while I was cooking dinner, because there just wasn’t enough time in the day for me to do both; and for being my comic relief and rescuing me from being swallowed up by this law school experience.
I hope we all take the opportunity to be humbled by those around us who helped us cross this finish line and who loved and supported us, even when we didn’t answer the phone or return phone calls. So on behalf of all of the graduates, we thank you parents, grandparents, significant others, children, family, and friends. And, again, thank you, Georgia State Law faculty and staff.
I wish all my classmates the very best of luck on the bar and in your careers. I’ll leave you with those three little quotes as we all go forward in life: 1) Don’t ever shrink yourself or make yourself small, because 2) The dream is free, but the hustle is sold separately, so 3) Just do it.