Charles Graham Jr., 31, of Houston, Texas, is the Kryder Law Group First-Generation College Scholarship winner. Mr. Graham is a law student at Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Southern Texas University. His powerful essay illuminates his diligence and the profound commitment needed to become the first person in his family to graduate from college.
His essay weaves a tale of how lessons learned working for his father’s business, Graham Shoe Repair in Houston, helped him achieve academic and personal success.
“The process for shining shoes is simple: clean, polish, and wax. You will not see this job on my resumé,” he wrote. “However, it was the first job I ever had. Through it, I learned many of the values that prepared me for the challenges of being a first-generation college student.”
As a child, he told his father he wanted to take over the family business. His father urged him to find a passion that he loved instead. “You can change the world,’’ his father said.
The second child of Angela and Charles Sr. Graham forged his path, becoming an Eagle Scout and award-winning percussionist. Along the way, he amassed enough accomplishments for several lifetimes.
He graduated with honors from the University of Texas at Austin, with a B.A. in Government & African and African Diaspora Studies. There, he was a TFA Campus Campaign Coordinator and the president of the Student African American Brotherhood.
After graduation, he joined Teach for America, teaching special education and Africana history in Philadelphia. He liked teaching so much that he got a Master of Science in Education, summa cum laude, from the University of Pennsylvania. He then became a Manager of Special Education & 504 Coordinator for YES Prep Public Schools in Houston. He was on his way to becoming a school administrator when he decided to attend law school. His goal is to become a civil rights lawyer.
At Thurgood Marshall, he is a writing advisor; class vice president (2019-2020); a content consultant on “The Legal Memorandum: 50 Exercises for Mastery,” (forthcoming 2020)
(with Katherine Vukadin and D’Andra Shu); a member of the Houston Young Lawyers Assn (HYLA).; a 2020 NAMWOLF Scholar; a 2020 Spouses of Houston Barristers Scholar; a 2020 Blask Fellow; a 2020 Assn. of Corporate Counsel Scholar; a 2020 Houston Bar Association Diversity & Inclusion Scholar; a 2020 Just the Beginning Scholar; and a Neal Speedon Moot Court semi-finalist (Spring 2020). All the while, Mr. Graham has maintained a top 10% GPA and appeared on the Dean’s List (2019–20).
His outward initial successes belied the hidden difficulties of a first-generation college student. Mr. Graham wrote that he felt like an imposter arriving on the U-T campus.
“Do I really have what it takes to succeed in college? Did I only get in to meet a diversity quota? Will my peers accept the son of a shoeshine man?” he wrote.
This reaction is not unusual for students whose parents didn’t graduate from college. The First Generation Foundation reports that only 11% of first-generation students graduated from college after six years, in contrast with 55% of students whose parents have college degrees.
Mr. Graham and his wife, Victoria, have two children: Vivian, 5, and Charles III, 10 months. He knows that their children will have a different and easier experience than him, both their parents having post-graduate degrees. But he will also teach them the values his parents instilled in him, values that can be explained through learning how to properly shine a shoe.