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Education

I escaped generational poverty by  amassing college debt. Loan forgiveness will change lives.

My own children have never experienced coming home to no lights or running water. They will never have to escape from poverty because they don't come from it and I don't know that I'd be able to say the same if I didn't make the choice to accept student loans.

Photo by Jasmine Coro on Unsplash

I escaped poverty by going into debt.

I don't come from money. In fact, I come from the stark opposite. My mother was one of nine children who grew up in an abusive household that was well below the poverty line and her mother grew up poorer than she did. This cycle of poverty goes back as far as I can trace, so it's no surprise that I also grew up poor. There were days when the only thing we had to eat was peanut butter on a spoon during the day to keep us satiated until dinner because it was the only meal that day.


That's not for lack of trying on my parent's part. My stepdad worked a full-time job and lived the hustle life before it became coined by millennials and slapped on a mug. The one thing that was consistently impressed upon me by my parents was the importance of going to college so I could do better than the generation before me. But there wasn't a roadmap for me to follow. Neither of my parents had gone to college at the time and really didn't know the requirements to get in nor the process of applying for financial aid. Since this was before Google, there was no information readily available at my fingertips. There was no financial literacy to pass down to their children when their only goal was survival.

The Biden Administration has done something unprecedented in the history of the United States by forgiving $10,000 of student loan debt for Americans making less than $125,000 a year (less than $250,000 if married or head of household). If you received Pell Grant assistance while in college, you qualify for up to $20,000 in student loan forgiveness. To qualify for the Pell Grant you have to be in great financial need, which means I also received this money to assist with college expenses. But contrary to what some believe, the Pell Grant isn't a large sum of money, so loans are still necessary, even for people like me who worked while in school. Escaping poverty is expensive and exhausting and a program like this will help others break the cycle.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

While most are focused on the loans being forgiven, there's a piece of information being overlooked that could make a big impact on people's lives. Under the new debt relief plan, people who are on an income-based repayment plan can now cap their monthly payments at 5% of their income. Previously the repayment amount was capped at 10% of a person's income.

Obviously such a big move has set off a firestorm of conversation around who should and shouldn't get it, or if it should be done at all. But the conversations around student loan forgiveness don't account for the fact that not everyone starts from the same place at the starting line. It's easy to say people should know what they're getting into when signing up for student loans if you grew up with a different set of circumstances.

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

For people like me, student loans were the only way out of poverty and I'd do it again. Because I took out debt to pay for a college education, my children won't have to do the same. They will now have a financially literate parent to walk them through the process, explain complicated forms and help them find more cost-effective alternatives. My own children have never experienced coming home to no lights or running water. They will never have to escape from poverty because they don't come from it and I don't know that I'd be able to say the same if I didn't make the choice to accept student loans.

While forgiving $10,000 to $20,000 worth of student debt for a select group of people isn't ideal, this could open up the door to future borrowers. The awareness around predatory lending to students, the continuously growing cost of college and the stagnation of wages could lead to real policy change that would impact everyone. No student should be saddled with insurmountable debt just for getting an education and this is hopefully the first step toward ending this practice.

President Biden's first address to Congress on Wednesday night covered a number of topics: COVID-19, the war in Afghanistan, climate change, healthcare, taxes and more. But it was a personal comment to America's transgender community that might have been the most powerful moment of the night.

Transgender Americans continue to be one of the most openly discriminated against communities in America. Since Biden's election, a number of states have proposed bills that would restrict the rights of transgender citizens, including children.

Some leaders have bravely stood up for the rights of our most vulnerable citizens. For example, North Dakota's Republican Gov. Doug Burgum recently vetoed a bill that would have banned trans girls from competing in sports.

"To all the transgender Americans watching at home, especially the young people who are so brave, I want you to know that your president has your back," Biden told Congress in his call for passage of the Equality Act.



Biden's calm and caring words to the trans community were immediately celebrated online.




Biden has promised to make passage of the Equality Act a priority during his first 100 days in office, something he failed to achieved and which has generated criticism from trans activists. However, tonight's address may restore some hope that action is imminent. Along with Biden's call for action, First Lady Jill Biden used her VIP guest list to include Stella Keating, a 16-year-old that President Biden had speak before Congress in support of the Equality Act's passage.


Election 2020 is turning out to be just as batsh*t crazy as 2020 itself, which of course isn't surprising, but certainly is annoying.

Due to Trump's baseless claims that the election is rigged against him and that if only legal votes were counted he'd be winning, states and counties that have spent years honing their elections to make them as secure as possible, that rallied to adjust their systems to accommodate the needs of voters in a global pandemic, and that have managed to pull off hundreds upon hundreds of elections without widespread fraud now have to battle a president publicly attacking the integrity of our entire electoral process.

Good times, America.

No one disagrees that elections should be run fairly. No one disagrees that ballots should be cast within legal boundaries. No one disagrees that every legally cast vote should be counted. No one disagrees that ballot counting should be overseen by representatives of both parties and that poll watchers should raise concerns if they see something questionable in the vote tallying process.

And that has been happening in ballot counting centers across the nation. Unfortunately, so has some ridiculous tomfoolery from the Trump camp.

Julie Moroney is a law student who answered the call for non-partisan poll watchers in Detroit, Michigan, and she shared on Twitter what she experienced as she watched Wayne county ballots being counted.



Moroney wrote:

"I was at the TCF Center in Detroit yesterday as a non-partisan poll challenger. The woman in the maroon shirt with the black mask was one of the GOP challengers I monitored. At one point, she yelled that a ballot needed to be thrown out because it 'looked sticky.' Another time she demanded that the poll workers stop what they were doing and backup all computers in case of power outage or tornado(?). Just baseless, bad faith challenges to slow the process.

And after Trump filed his lawsuit and MI was called for Biden, the GOP strategy shifted to challenge every single ballot. I know this because I overheard their organizers pass on the new message. They didn't even pretend to have a reason for doing so, just repeated 'I challenge this ballot; I challenge that ballot' over and over again as the poll workers tried to count.

At one point, my good friend and law school classmate @sumnertruax looked over at me and said 'this is not how democracy is supposed to work.' It was so true, and so sad. The optics of it all weren't lost on me either. Picture a huge space filled with predominantly Black poll workers just trying to do their gd jobs while white MI GOP challengers hovered over them, yelling at them that they're wrong, doing a bad job, or committing crimes.

The harassment and intimidation — both from the GOP challengers in the room and the GOP supporters banging on the windows trying to get in — is seared onto my brain. Security guards had to escort us out a side entrance so we could leave the building safely.

One of the most jarring things was stepping outside of the building and seeing the sun set across the river in Canada. The juxtaposition of exiting the epicenter of 'American democracy' that felt more like mob rule and seeing the Canadian flag gently flap in the wind a mile away, An example of a functioning democracy...the irony was painful.

I left exhausted, but mostly just sad. I love America, but some of you make it so hard.

How did we get to a place where you challenge other people's ballots simply because you believe they voted for the other guy? How did we get to a place where you file a lawsuit claiming lack of access, when you have 100+ challengers in there fucking shit up? How did we get to a place where you're so deep into conspiracy theories that you claim ballots are coming out of thin air when you are there, witnessing the process, and doing everything in your power to impede it?

Go home. And let the incredible, hard-working and honest poll workers #CountEveryVote."

Poll workers are seriously patriotic heroes right now. What is usually a tedious-but-necessary job has suddenly become a target for quacks and fanatics who simply can't believe that the most unpopular president since Gerald Ford could possibly fail to be reelected in a fair election. Why? Because Trump says so. It's really that simple.

Nevermind the fact that if Democrats were really rigging the election, there's no way on earth Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham would still have their seats. Nevermind the fact that Republicans won races in every one of the swing states where Trump is trying to raise doubts, with the same ballots used to vote for or against him. Nevermind the fact that Trump is a malignant narcissist who literally cannot admit to losing, no matter how clear the outcome of the election.

No one disagrees that legitimate concerns about ballots and votes should be investigated—when there is evidence. Yes, there are occasional irregularities in every single election, and those should be looked into. But you can't just stand behind the presidential podium and claim the election is rigged or fraudulent or stolen because you're losing or because the electoral system that has successfully elected 45—soon to be 46—presidents isn't being run exactly the way you want it to be.

As Moroney's fellow poll watcher said, "This isn't how democracy is supposed to work." Indeed, it is not. And the fact that the dysfunction is coming from the president himself is the saddest thing of all.

Adrian Bacolo (bacolosphotos.com)

The classrooms were empty.

Never did I expect to see my former high school, in Delaware, as the site of the Democratic National Convention on TV, but there it was. There was my study hall and my study hall teacher, who also happens to be the former second lady.

When I graduated college in Delaware, I hightailed it out of there, like most people my age. I had big dreams in New York. I wanted to be a writer.

That summer, my father was killed by a distracted driver. She'd gotten lost and pulled off a highway, picking up her phone at a red light to call for directions. She zoomed right through the next red and plowed into my dad, who was turning left. He died instantly. Or so I was told. I was 25, and decided to keep going. I inherited a small insurance settlement. I used it to stay in New York. It was how my dad would have wanted it, I thought.

Now, seventeen years later, those dreams had come true. I'd been published in national magazines and newspapers in addition to copyediting national magazines. But I still wasn't fulfilled. No amount of career success could erase what had happened. I was still working on making it right.



"After our son Beau died of cancer, I wondered if I would ever smile or feel joy again," the blond woman in the green shirtdress, Dr. Jill Biden, said on television. "It was summer, but there was no warmth left for me. Four days after Beau's funeral, I watched Joe shave and put on his suit. I saw him steel himself in the mirror, take a breath, put his shoulders back and walk out into a world empty of our son. He went back to work. That's just who he is. There are times when I couldn't even imagine how he did it. How he put one foot in front of the other and kept going. But I've always understood why he did it…he does it for you. Joe's purpose has always driven him forward. His strength of will is unstoppable, and his faith is unshakable. Because it's not in politicians or political parties or even in himself — it's in the providence of God."


WATCH: Jill Biden's full speech at the 2020 Democratic National Convention | 2020 DNC Night 2www.youtube.com


A week after Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, my life took an unexpected turn, too.

My brother had just moved into his first condo. My husband and I drove the four hours up to Salem, Massachusetts, to see him. Once there, my brother and future sister-in-law revealed a treasure they'd discovered in their move: our father's bucket list.

"Talk with the President." "Correspond with the Pope." "Surf in the Pacific." It was the kind of thing you find and chuckle over. His indecipherable handwriting, the wild things this man from Delaware wanted to do. But I didn't just laugh. I felt a pull to action. My husband felt it too.

"You have to finish this list," he said. "And then write a book about it."

I'd been an activist for three years, twisting my work as a journalist into a platform. But I hadn't found the right medium. And the numbers of car fatalities kept going up.

"The burdens we carry are heavy, and we need someone with strong shoulders," Dr. Biden continued. "I know that if we entrust this nation to Joe, he will do for your family what he did for ours. Bring us together and make us whole, carry us forward in our time of need, keep the promise of America for all of us."

It's not easy. Moving on, trying to make sense of unimaginable tragedy.

I've understood what families have gone through the past six months. I know the pain of getting a phone call to learn your father has died. There is a helplessness. An anger.

My dad never would have wanted me to talk about his death my whole life. My dad was hopeful, joyful, a storyteller. He would have wanted a better story.

"Be invited to a political convention" was item 53 on my dad's bucket list. After "talk with the President," it struck me as the least feasible. But in August 2019, I gave it a go. By then I'd checked off 27 of my dad's dreams.

First I wrote to every Democratic candidate. Then I wrote to every college alum who worked for the press, to every TV show who'd interviewed me. Finally, I tried a University of Delaware alum who worked at the local paper. He said he had no connection to Biden, but could put me in touch with the Delaware Democratic state party.

The Delaware Democratic chairman was kind. He said if I was a registered Democrat, I could attend their next convention.

That sounded like an invitation to me.

I walked out of the New York skyscraper where I worked and just before I reached the subway stopped and cried. Of all the conventions I could have ended up going to, I'd never imagined one in my home state. The place I'd wanted nothing to do with 20 years ago. But it was exactly where my dad would have gone, had he checked this off himself.

A few months later, a story about my mission to finish my dad's list was published in my college's alumni magazine. It was to come out that spring.



But by then, the whole world had fallen apart.

My husband came home from work early on a Wednesday in March. "I'm not going back," he said. "We have to work from home indefinitely."

We jumped in the car and drove to Whole Foods to stock up. I texted everyone I knew, asking them how they were handling this craziness. I got no response.

The pandemic hadn't hit them yet.

"We just need leadership worthy of our nation," Dr. Biden said. "Worthy of you. Honest leadership to bring us back together, to recover from this pandemic and prepare for whatever else is next. Leadership to reimagine what our nation will be."

In the next few weeks, I decided I wanted more than just an invite to a state convention. And so as the country shut down, I collected signatures to become a national delegate. I had to do it digitally because my state was sheltering in place. I attached a photo of myself in a tuxedo (another list item, "own a black tux"). I asked my neighbors to put down whatever they were doing and please sign my list. But then the governor waived the need for signatures.


A councilwoman in my town emailed me. She said she could get me in. She shared my story with a friend who shared it with another friend and next thing I knew, the Joe Biden campaign was hearing about me.

Weeks went by. My University of Delaware magazine article came out. They'd put me on the cover. People said my story gave them hope during an uncertain time. But I felt lost. Yes, my story was one of hope, but hope in a more simple time. Not hope during a time of 170,000 deaths, 5 million Americans ill and millions out of work in only five months!


My husband and I couldn't even leave our house. I couldn't see anyone I loved. How on earth could my words still make a difference?

"How do you make a broken family whole?" Dr. Biden said. "The same way you make a nation whole: with love and understanding and with small acts of kindness. With bravery, with unwavering faith. We show up for each other in big ways and small ones again and again."

The sacrifices I've seen people make for my dad's bucket list have been countless. It has changed my marriage for the better, thanks to my husband's contributions. Every sibling, cousin, aunt and uncle has chipped in, as have my mom and stepdad and every friend. Every person I know has somehow turned out to be an expert on some list item. They've given me their time for free. Even strangers.

I'm richer in love because of this project, I have friends I never would have known. And they tell me they're richer too.

In June I learned Biden had chosen his NJ delegates for the national convention, and I wasn't one of them.

But by July I felt better about not receiving an invite. Because now, thanks to the pandemic, nobody would. The convention would be virtual, in an effort to protect people's lives.

Then it was announced that even Biden wouldn't travel to Milwaukee. He'd accept the nomination right there in Delaware.

The same state I'd already been invited to for the Delaware state convention. My mom texted me an hour before the second night of the DNC.

"Jill Biden is speaking from her classroom at Brandywine High School, Room 232."

"What?" I said. "I've been in that room!"

How is it possible? I thought. I've been denied an invitation back to my own high school!

But then I suddenly knew. It was because I was too busy trying to be important to remember who I really am.

"Now, Joe is not perfect," former First Lady Michelle Obama said in her DNC speech. "And he'd be the first to tell you that. But there is no perfect candidate, no perfect president. And his ability to learn and grow—we find in that the kind of humility and maturity that so many of us yearn for right now. Because Joe Biden has served this nation his entire life without ever losing sight of who he is; but more than that, he has never lost sight of who we are, all of us.

Here she was, Dr. Jill Biden, this beautiful stateswoman, addressing our nation in a hopeless time, during the most important election of our lifetimes—from my high school. From little Delaware.

From a place that maybe wasn't so little after all.

Maybe I didn't have to make my voice seem big to be heard. Instead of spending the evening in a crowded arena, I spent it on my couch at home, cheering with my mom over the phone when we saw my old stomping grounds on TV.

And hers were the only ears I needed. The only invitation I could want.

A night with my mom at the national convention. And I know my dad was there, too.

Probably laughing at me.


Laura Carney is a writer and magazine and book copy editor in New York and is writing a book about finishing the bucket list of her late father, who was killed by a distracted driver