Today I pulled the switch and paid off the remainder of my student loan debt. My education costs were paid for through federal student loans, scholarships, grants, and a graduate assistantship. I was ineligible for public loan forgiveness because my debt would have been paid off within ten years of standard payments. While the confirmation message shows that I owe $0, the feeling has not sunk in yet.
What I’m most thankful for is that I paid off every penny by myself based upon my own efforts. Of course, I could not have done so if I had not been gainfully employed full-time for the last 41 months. When I started college in 2004, I wanted to be a Disney animator. My dad had forbidden me from applying for Randolph-Macon Women’s College (since integrated) in Virginia so I had to go to school across town. I was miserable there. As high school was wrapping up, my classmates said that they had just known they were at the right school when they stepped onto campus. I never felt that during the four miserable years in my undergraduate program. I was there because I had no money to defy my dad and go to school elsewhere. So local I stayed.
I supported my dad, my three cats, and myself through college by working part-time in various retail and restaurant jobs. Pay was extremely low as you may imagine. I needed my student loans to make ends meet. I went to school full-time. My average day was me arriving for class at 8 a.m. Then I’d be at work at 4 p.m. till 9:30 p.m. I’d sleep in my car between classes and pull all-nighters to get projects done. I was exhausted all the time and deeply unhappy.
Graduation rolled around four years later in 2008 — just as the economy sank. I was fortunate to have my crappy retail job to continue to go to. I freelanced on a video documentary and graphic design job. Put in endless applications. I then went to a job fair on campus and ended up on the local news. My coworkers saw me talk about having put in 79 applications as a college graduate and having no leads. I then looked into grad school.
My first choice was Eastern Carolina University to become a nurse-midwife. However to get there, I needed to pick up four biology classes for enrollment. I sat for hours at the local community college to talk to them. They told me that I couldn’t take the classes without enrolling as a freshman and starting college all over again. Very angry and disappointed, I decided to take up what those “what should I do with my career?” tests said — library school. I took the GRE a week later (did as best as can be expected for such a short turnaround) and visited UNC and UNCG. At UNC, I did not talk to the library school but the journalism department (!). Dad and I almost didn’t bother going to UNCG, but we swung by last minute anyways. I’m so glad I did — I found my school.
Work punished me. Everyone knew I had been on the news talking about finding a non-retail job. So at the height of Christmas shopping and despite being on the customer service desk — they cut my hours to zero. For two long weeks I had no pay. This was the only income for my household. When I came to check the schedule, I found out that I had been hired to do claims (AKA returns, hazardous waste management, and recalls) full-time. The guy who worked back there said he wanted me to come work with him. Thus Chris saved my household. I worked in claims until June 2009. I moved to Greensboro for library school on August 1, 2009.
I had transferred from my retail store to one near my new apartment. It was extremely hateful. Feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and homesick, I went to the school’s counselors. The guy convinced me that retail was killing me so I quit in September. I had worked for the company for 37 months. Things went okay for awhile, but my darling Dollbaby was sick from complications of diabetes and needed to visit the vet quite frequently. So in January I started to bite the bullet and try to go back to that hellhole. Then another call from above happened and I was awarded a graduate assistantship as webmaster. My education was now paid for and I had a small income that allowed me to take care of my baby.
Librarianship was something I choose out of desperation. My dream since the age of 8 to work as a Disney animator was too far away and impossible to achieve (you needed to have money to have a long unpaid internship to even get your foot in the door). So I improvised. This blog has been tracking me since the time I graduated college in 2008. I spent the first 26 years of my life in poverty. I was so heavy with sorrow for taking on student loan debt. Now that it’s gone and I’ve repaid the government/society, I am finally free. I can focus on saving for retirement.
Thus the end of this story. I obtained my driver’s license and the freedom to drive when I was twenty years old. Since my work and school consumed all my time, I was rarely able to make the trips to visit my grandparents who lived exactly 56 miles away from my house. In January 2011, in my final semester of library school, I got the call that the end was coming for Grandpa. I managed three trips between then till he died. The second to last trip, Grandma had left the room and I knelt down beside grandpa’s wheelchair. I was crying, holding onto his hand. And I asked him to please come to my graduation in May. Please. I am his only descendent to finish college let alone graduate school. I asked him if he was proud of me. I wanted to make him proud. He had worked so hard his whole life and had been sick with Parkinsons for 9 years. I wanted him to come see that his hard work had led to at least one of his descendents finally having the chance to get out of poverty. He died on Tuesday, February 15th at 9 p.m.
So grandpa, I paid off the last of my debt today in your honor. Your birthday was on Friday. I want to show you how far we still have to go.