L. Alisyn Crawford shares how she went from a high school dropout to earning a GED credential and law degree.
Crawford is currently writing a book that tells her story and that of other women who have overcome significant obstacles to achieve their dreams.
Could you tell me more about your current career?
I am a policy specialist for the State of Michigan. I write policy related to medical eligibility for Medicaid long-term care programs for older adults and those with disabilities. Previously, I worked as an Attorney Advisor for the Social Security Administration. I teach courses for paralegals and do volunteering and outreach. I am also working on a book that I hope to publish about my journey.
What credentials do you currently hold?
I have a Bachelor’s in Psychology and Sociology from the University of Massachusetts Boston, a Juris Doctor from Northeastern University School of Law and a Master’s in Public Health from Tufts University School of Medicine—it all started with the GED.
Could you tell us more about your background and what led you to dropping out of school?
I grew up in Detroit but lived in Massachusetts for some of my middle school years before returning to my hometown. It was my 10th grade year and I had been subjected to a lot of bullying and was not focused on my education as a result. The school environment was very toxic, and I did not feel mentally safe.
It was recommended that I do homeschooling when I dropped out of 10th grade. However, I started working at Taco Bell at 16 years old, working 40 hours a week. There was no way to study and work. From there I had over 15 jobs before I was 19, including working at McDonald’s for only one day. I felt as though I was just working with no true aspirations.
In 2002, I was starting to feel discouraged. My grandmother, an educator and school administrator, asked me what I wanted to do. I told her I wanted to be an author because I never saw myself as a 9 to 5 person—I needed fluidity.
My grandmother encouraged me to take a creative writing course at the local community college, and it felt much better than high school. I realized I would not be able to get any credit from taking the course and that I needed my GED in order to go to college. I recognized I could not go any further than that without it, and knew the GED was a stepping stone. So, one day in April 2002, I walked into the GED testing center and took an exam that I did not study for. I passed. I was happy to learn that even though I only got through less than half of my high school career, I was able to pass the GED exam without prep. I did above average in reading comprehension and social studies—all of this would lead to my liberal arts career.
When did you make the move to college and law school?
I became pregnant with my first daughter and decided to go to college in order to do better for her. I moved to Boston and started undergrad classes at the University of Massachusetts Boston when she was only 7 weeks old. I wanted to graduate as soon as possible so I took a lot of classes—summer classes, 16 to 18 credits at a time, anything to get done. I graduated with a degree in psychology and sociology. For the first time in my life, I walked across a stage to receive a diploma, and it would not be the last.
When I was one year away from graduating undergrad, I visited Northeastern University while my sister was there taking post-baccalaureate courses. As we were leaving campus, we walked passed the law school and its large glass walls and said, “I want to go to law school here.” When I applied to Northeastern University a few months later, I got an acceptance letter in two weeks and was even offered a scholarship—it was everything I wanted.
How did the GED prepare you for academic, professional and personal life?
Having a GED means you have a story to tell. Having a GED says you have what it takes to take the road less traveled; a road not paved in gold. Yes, it does define me but not in a negative way.
I think people pay more attention to me once they know I have a GED. The more accomplished I became, the more intrigued people were by it. This is why I enjoy telling my story because it is not where you start, it’s where you finish. I am grateful for what I have been able to do with my GED, it is a part of who I am.
How did you manage being a single parent and going to school?
As a single parent, living in Massachusetts during my educational career was helpful—I was able to earn my degrees in under 6 years. The food assistance, cash assistance, and child care helped me, and I could not have done it without the help of the state. I never felt ashamed about being on welfare because I knew I would be able to pay it back—and then some—once I completed my education. I think about it now as paying it forward.
What kept you motivated throughout your journey?
There are always obstacles and mistakes along the way. I had to take the LSAT and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) twice but I was determined to only take the bar exam once. My daughter had just turned six years old and it was just us in an apartment in Michigan. I only had seven weeks to study, mainly at night after I put my daughter to bed. I remember getting my bar results when I picked her up from soccer practice. I was unbelievably happy. This was an accomplishment that belonged to both of us and to celebrate her contribution to my success I bought my daughter a new bike.
When did you decide to write your book?
I realized in law school that all the inspirational stories I would tell had to do with my grandmother and my mother, then I realized that I had a story to tell as well.
I am extremely inspired by my grandmother’s and mother’s stories. They carried so much on their shoulders that I felt like I had no right to complain; just push through. My grandmother had nine kids and a husband and got her doctorate in education. My mother a single parent of four, completed medical school and did exceptionally well.
In addition to my journey, I am interviewing 12 other women and writing their stories and my hope is that the book will be completed this fall.
What is your advice to other GED students and graduates?
Have people around you that support you and uplift you, if they do not, remove them from your circle.
Also, remember that a lot of what we believe to be a barrier is usually a self-imposed barrier. If you are telling yourself that you cannot reach a goal, then you will not reach that goal. Be strong and assertive in your decision-making and go for it. It’s okay to take the non-traditional route and see what’s out there. You must find a way to be your most happy-self.
I think the stigma around the GED is better than it used to be. I still get in situations where people don’t know about the credentials I hold, and when I say credentials, I count the GED. I use it as an opportunity to educate them. You should feel empowered that you have a GED.