By Shirlene Armstrong • January 25, 2018•Writers in Residence, Law School
Imagine a classroom of eight-year-old, third grade students on a typical day of school. Most of the children are laughing with one another, day-dreaming or even playing during the lesson. One child seems unlike the others. This young girl appears to be focusing on the material being presented. She seems to understand the lesson and actively participates in the lecture. It also appears that this child gives off a serious, academic atmosphere. This young lady happens to be myself.
I am just your average 23-year-old gal: I have a loving family, friends, a boyfriend that I love dearly, two beautiful cats, etc etc. Oh, I also had the crazy idea of deciding to go to law school despite never having a family member go to college before. My name is Shirlene Armstrong, one of Ms. JD’s 2018 Writers in Residence and currently a 2L at Wayne State University Law School. Welcome to my life as a first generation college student and lawyer.
My journey began far before I was born. My loving parents came from two big, working-class families and did not have the opportunity to get college degrees. Instead, they entered the workforce at a young age and worked for everything they had. By the time I was born, then my sister a year later, my parents knew they wanted a better life for us. From a very young age, I was taught two things: the value of hard work and the necessity of college education.
As a child, I was inquisitive and a quick learner. I always wanted to learn more, loved going to school, and spent my free time reading or playing “school” with my sister. Beginning in elementary school, I knew I needed to do well in school so that I could go to college. This did not seem to be a problem for me as classes seemed to be easy and being “smart in class” just came natural.
My legal journey began one fateful day in the sixth grade. All students in my grade were required to take a Career Cruising aptitude test to determine what kind of career would suit us best. My results were all law related, “litigator, judge, attorney...” Some quick google searches led me down a path of my new passion: what lawyers do, how to become a lawyer, what I would need to do get to law school, etc. Although I did not fully understand what it all meant, I knew one thing: I was destined to go to law school.
Although many people change their aspirations as they get older, I never waivered. Starting in the sixth grade if someone asked me, “What do you want to be when you get older?” I always said that I wanted to become a lawyer. Although the career aptitude test sparked my realization of my dream, becoming a lawyer just made sense to me. I was always told I was a kind child, someone who did not like seeing people get hurt. I was very honest, I hated lying because I knew what was right and wrong. Also, I hated injustice. This may be difficult to imagine that a child knew what “injustice” was and had negative feelings toward it. However, it is the truth. Anytime I felt like something was not fair or someone was mistreated, I felt uncomfortable, upset, and angered. Despite being relatively mellow and peacemaking, I would speak-up when I saw injustice occurred because it did not sit right with me and I was not going to let it continue. Thus, I felt if I could use my love for knowledge and hate for injustice for the good of others, I would pursue that calling.
So that is the beginning of my story. That is the spark that ignited a passion for helping others and the law. That is the prologue of the epic journey of my “first generation success story” and why I am here today. That is just me.