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A Child of Hardship Gets a Break

For Kristin Beale, education has meant everything.

Photograph by Caitlin Cunningham

I grew up in a very low-income household, where my single mother worked fifteen-hour night shifts six, often seven nights a week to support me and my siblings. Being the oldest, I took on much of the responsibility of raising my younger siblings. I remember in high school starting my homework only after they were all fed and asleep, often working until well past midnight and then getting up at 5 a.m. to load the woodstove and start getting us all ready for school. I also remember my favorite high school math teacher asking me where I was going to go to college, and me answering quite quickly, “Well, I’m not.”

Actually, I had never really thought about college and no one in my family had ever been to college. I didn’t see why I would be any different, and I had assumed I would get a local job where I could stay close to home and continue to support my family. But after many long conversations and the help of my teacher, my mother, and my grandmother, we scraped together a plan and single application to a local college.

My most cherished memory in life thus far is the moment I told my grandmother that the single application had worked and I was going to college. She hugged me so tight that I couldn’t breathe and she laughed and cried at the same time. I might have cried a little too. Now, she was the real genius of the family because on that day she told me, “Krissy, you come from a line of strong, independent, fierce women, but let me tell you something. You can do anything, but don’t you ever be too proud to ask for help, to accept love and support from those around you, and to take every single opportunity you can get which allows you to thrive.”

“You can do anything, but don’t you ever be too proud to ask for help, to accept love and support from those around you, and to take every opportunity you can get which allows you to thrive.” —Kristin Beale’s grandmother to Kristin on learning she’d been accepted to college

So here we are, I’m standing here tonight with a double major BA in biology and chemistry, a PhD in molecular biology, and soon (hopefully) a JD with a focus in intellectual property and patent prosecution.

But my grandmother was, as are most grandmothers, always right. I could never have done this alone. I could not have done this without my family, my love, my fellow students, my many wonderful professors, and really importantly, financial help through scholarships. Along every step of my path I have received scholarships from generous donors like many of you here tonight.

These scholarships have enabled me to attend the schools of my dreams, which I certainly would not have been able to do otherwise. Financial stability has also provided me the ability to focus fully on learning and becoming the best lawyer I can be. Without such support, I would likely have had to attend night school while working full time. Instead, I was able to immerse myself in the BC Law community. I’ve had the opportunity to serve as editor-in-chief of the Intellectual Property and Technology Journal, be involved in student organizations and events, serve as a 1L mentor, and even spend a semester studying abroad for the first time in my life.

Being surrounded by such generosity is contagious. I’ve been inspired by all of you to always strive to give back. I will continue to serve as a mentor to law students throughout my career, am currently slated to join my firm’s diversity committee in the fall, and hope one day to be able to give back in the way that so many of you have.

It’s hard to convey how much this support means to me and my family. What I can say is that those who have supported me through scholarships, like the Tobin Family has done during my time in law school, have become a part of my family. This entire community has become a part of my family. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank everyone in this room today and every day for your support.

Excerpted from her speech at April’s Scholarship Dinner.