A lot of people talk about wanting to close the achievement gap, but few actually put their money where their mouth is.  Today I get to meet some of the most generous people in corporate America– donors that have spent at least $1000/person for the Albert G. Oliver’s annual luncheon in New York City, and it is my job to illustrate what a difference their donations can make in a child’s life by sharing my story.

I was born in Queens to an immigrant single mother, and we grew up with government assistance, including government-issued cheese.  I did not know English until I started kindergarten, where I got pulled out for English as a second language.  Fortunately, I was able to learn English quickly and flawlessly.  By the time I was age 14, I was an honor roll student and nationally recognized rhythmic gymnast.

26 years ago, while minding my own business sitting in Junior High, I was called down to the principal’s office, where I was introduced to a representative of the Albert G. Oliver program.  After lots of screening interviews, tutoring, tests, and tours of various private schools, I got the gift of a lifetime- the chance to attend Phillips Academy Andover– free of charge.

In the summers, the Oliver Program helped me obtain internships, and they encouraged us all to do community service.  This way, I built my resume and contacts, so by the time I applied to college, I had my pick of many great schools, just like any other of my Andover peers.

The Oliver Program arranged for a college tour the summer before we all sent out our applications, and this is how I was introduced to Georgetown.  I made DC my home after law school, and for the last 15 years I’ve been a family law attorney, helping families work out their issues.

Today, I get to run my own firm where I actually promote settlements outside of court, and I enjoy doing a lot of mediation and Collaborative cases.  Now, I may not get paid anywhere near what my corporate colleagues make, but I am surviving, and more importantly I have work-life balance.  I have created  a life where I have choices, and I make it a priority to give back to the community.

In addition to volunteering at my son’s school, the past few years I’ve been able to lecture to students at both Georgetown and GWU Law School.  I mentor students and help train volunteers for the DC Bar Pro Bono Program.  I’ve spent years helping at the courthouse, with the Women’s Bar Association and other non-profit organizations.  Last year, I was able to provide legal commentaries for Sirius XM at least twice a month, and then this past year I was given the opportunity to develop my own tv show for a local public access channel to help families tackle major issues.

I’ve taken things to a whole new level recently, putting over 20 shows on YouTube to try and spread the word on a national level.  Meanwhile, I’ve had several essays published and been recognized in various media formats, including blogs, journals, and magazines across the country.

At age 40, I’ve been mentioned in the ABA journal twice; ABC has had me on twice; and both the Washington Post and Bethesda Magazine have done feature stories on me and my work.  So the ongoing joke at home is when am I actually going to get paid for any of these endeavors?  I don’t have an answer to that, but when people ask “why are you doing all this?”  That I can answer.

Cynics might think I am an ego maniac.  Many think I’m some genius that has figured out how to have my cake and eat it too.  Few understand the truth, but I am going to share that truth today.

The truth is that there is an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I have for the Oliver Program, and at the same time a tremendous sense of guilt– guilt that I could never repay them.  Well, today is the day I get to pay them back.  Hopefully, sharing my story will prove that it is possible to close the achievement gap– but it is not easy, and it is not an inexpensive process.  Just look at all the resources it took to create the woman that I am today.

I am who I am because of the generosity of many; because my mother was able to make the ultimate sacrifice of letting me go; and because Oliver believed in me.  To everyone that played a part, all I can say is thank you.