Where Are They Now

From 1988 through 1990, we published the first series of Student Aid Success Stories, celebrating the power of financial aid. For our 50th anniversary, we’re catching up with those who were featured in original Student Aid Success Stories and finding out how their education, and the financial aid they received, continues to impact their lives 25 years later.

Rodney J. BartlettRodney J. Bartlett
Graduate Research Professor, University of Florida
Ph.D., University of Florida
B.S., Millsaps College

“I was just a ‘B’ student in high school, but there was never any doubt about going to college, even though I was the first in my family to go. We just weren’t sure how the bills would be paid. … The U.S. has to have federal financial aid to educate our young. The 1965 Higher Education Act was so crucial because it attracted people to teaching.” - Rodney Bartlett, NASFAA Success Stories, 1990

Despite the struggle many college graduates face with student loans today, Rodney says they were an instrumental vehicle in navigating paying for his college education.

Throughout his higher education career in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Rodney says he also took advantage of funding through teaching assistantships and fellowships.

“Education has been my life,” he says. “I realized as a freshman college student that what I wanted to do with my life was to become a professor, and took a route to realize that.”

Today, Rodney is a professor at the University of Florida, and has become a prominent scholar in his field of quantum chemistry. Among the many national and international awards Rodney has received over the years are the 2007 American Chemical Society award for Theoretical Chemistry, the 2008 Schrödinger Medal of the World Association of Theoretical and Computational Chemists, and the 2010 Southern Chemist of the Year, an award given by the Memphis American Chemical Society.

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Tina (Huyck) CarterTina (Huyck) Carter
Community Pastor, Texas
Ph.D., B.S., Colorado School of the Mines

“We got married after my first semester in college, and had two children during my undergraduate career. [My husband] Doug and I were both full-time students during the first year-and-a-half of our marriage. If not for the financial support available to us, one or both of us would have had to sacrifice our education.” - Tina (Hyuck) Carter, NASFAA Success Stories, 1990

Since we last caught up with Tina, she received her doctorate in applied chemistry and felt a desire to make "a contribution to our common good." She spent several years doing consulting work on contamination and pollution issues before quitting in 1998 to attend Divinity School at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Tina began serving the church full-time in January 2002, graduated and was ordained in full-connection as an elder in the United Methodist church in June of 2005.

“I have had the privilege of publishing multiple papers and articles in my technical field, a novel, and have co-authored a couple of books as a pastor, including The Wealth of Poverty,” Tina says. She has served in several congregations and is currently serving at a multi-cultural church located in southeast Austin as the community pastor.

Though Tina holds a doctorate in applied science and a Master of Divinity degree, and has been recognized as a world expert in a specific scientific field, her “greatest achievements have nothing to do with what the world might measure as ‘great,’” she says.

“My greatest achievements are that I have friends that most folks would consider ‘unimportant,’” Tina says. “I have been able to make my profile decrease and promote the gifts and graces of others–including the generationally poor.”

As a recipient of financial aid herself, Tina knows a thing or two about the strain lack of funding for education can cause. “Debt is a too-easily acquired, life-crippling burden that we jump into,” she says. “Debt ruins life, robs joy, and creates a condition where we almost always have to trade relationships for money just to get that monkey off our backs.” She advises that students take as long as they need to get through school, working simultaneously if they need to, in order to minimize their debt.

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Tijani (T.J.) ColeTijani (T.J.) Cole
Municipal Court Judge, Colorado
Ph.D., Secondary Education, La Salle University
J.D., University of Denver Law School
M.A., Judicial Studies, University of Nevada Reno
M.A., International Politics, University of Denver GSIS
B.A., Political Science, The Colorado College

“Coming from a one-parent family, my only opportunity for attending a good college depended on financial aid. Thanks to financial aid, I am achieving my goal of earning a law degree. Being in law school does not seem to interfere with coaching college football, serving as a reserve police officer, or making plans to run for public office after graduation in 1990.” - Tijani (T.J.) Cole, NASFAA Success Stories, 1989

In the over 20 years since his story was featured by NASFAA, T.J.'s career in education and the legal profession has been expansive. Since 2012, T.J. has served as a municipal court judge in Colorado, where he presides over criminal and juvenile cases. His previous work has included serving as a district court magistrate and a professor at the National Judicial College at the U.S. Department of State.

“Without financial aid, I would never have been able to complete my education [and[ achieve all of my dreams,” T.J. says. “I am lucky to have the career I have always wanted.”

A father of seven, T.J. has also used his education to help open doors for at-risk and underprivileged youth through Zoubida Cole College, a nonprofit institution that provides a comprehensive, “student-oriented,” technical arts education.

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Zna (Portlock) HoustonZna (Portlock) Houston
Senior Assistant City Attorney, Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office
J.D., Pepperdine University School of Law
B.A., Pepperdine University

“‘My parents had enough money to pay for a roof over our head, clothes, food, and my undergraduate degree. They didn’t have $30,000 for law school. The cost of getting such a degree can be debilitating. Very few students can afford that cost.’ … This L.A. lawyer believes ‘there is no hope for many Americans to get an education without financial aid. I would never have completed law school without it.’” - Zna (Portlock) Houston, NASFAA Success Stories, 1990

For many students, money is a large obstacle to gaining a college education, but Zna says it’s too big of an opportunity to pass up.

While financial aid can open doors to what’s possible, she says it’s important for students today to understand the obligations they have to pay off student loans, develop a strategy to budget for other expenses, and plan for their futures after college.

“Education is exposure to life, knowledge, and people,” she says. Through earning a higher education, Zna says she was able to develop a network for life, and has been able “to show those around me what is possible.”

Since graduating from Pepperdine University, Zna has earned her law degree, and has held a variety of prominent positions in California. In 1994, she was recruited to the Office of the Los Angeles City Attorney and over the years rose to the rank of senior assistant city attorney. She is currently the highest ranking African American in the city attorney’s office. She was also appointed to serve as a state board member for the California African American Museum by California Gov. Jerry Brown in 2012, and currently serves as the board’s vice chair.

Zna has been married for 21 years and has three children, one of whom is currently attending Syracuse University. She says her family is her greatest accomplishment.

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Mary Ihns EklundMary Ihns Eklund
Speech-Language Pathologist, Howard County Public Schools, Maryland
M.S., B.S., Purdue University

“Mary Ihns’ family is like so many other families in the U.S. - hard working, lower-middle class, yet full of love and encouragement. With four children, they just didn’t have the resources to pay for college. ‘Without financial aid, I would not have been able to go to college at all. I am so thankful for the money. I don’t know what I’d be doing now if I hadn’t gone.’” - Mary Ihns Eklund, NASFAA Success Stories, 1990

When we first met Mary, back when she was featured in NASFAA’s 1990 edition of Student Aid Success Stories, she had earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree at Purdue University in Indiana and was working as a speech-language pathologist. Since then, her career has taken her all over the country. Mary initially spent seven years working at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in South Bend, IN, and then two years traveling across the United States to assignments as a speech-language pathologist. She eventually moved to Massachusetts where she got married and spent five years as a speech-language pathologist in the public schools of Webster, MA. Her family has since moved to Maryland where she holds a position as a speech-language pathologist in the Howard County public schools.  

Her education, subsidized by financial aid, “has afforded [her] a lifestyle to be able send my children to college,” Mary says. The education she was able to get through financial aid funds has led her to a career she finds exciting and rewarding. “I get warm feelings in seeing where students go with their lives,”  Mary says of her current job working with middle school children.

Mary spends her time volunteering for programs that benefit children, including coordinating the school spelling bees and coaching Girls on Track, a program that encourages girls to embrace who they are and find joy and confidence through running. Additionally she volunteers with her own children’s activities and is the “team mom” for her sons’ high school track team.

“I think my country made a good investment in me. I’ve given back a great deal,” Mary says.

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David IrwinDavid Irwin
Professor and Interim Director, Speech-Language Pathology Program, University of Louisiana Monroe
Ph.D., University of Oklahoma
M.S., B.S., Central Missouri State University

“Fortunately, I was familiar with the financial aid process. My brother and sister received it. Our parents were farmers most of their lives. Three years in a row the crops flooded. They tried investing in a chicken house, but ran into financial difficulties.” - David Irwin, NASFAA Success Stories, 1990

During David’s sophomore year at Central Missouri State University, he “saw what poverty was like first-hand,” he says. David’s parents, who were farmers, went bankrupt due to three years of flooding. David had two siblings who were also enrolled in college at the time, further adding to his family’s financial hardship. But the financial aid he received gave him “the opportunity to continue to grow and learn from others,” a chance he says he wouldn’t have otherwise had.

David, who retired in 2011 from his position as a professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Services at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, was able to obtain a bachelor’s degree with the help of financial aid and went on to earn a master’s degree from Central Missouri State University and a doctorate from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in speech-language pathology.

Over the course of his career, David has taught a wide range of courses and written numerous articles and several books. He has over 35 years of professional experience as a certified speech-language pathologist and has served as president of the Louisiana Speech Language Hearing Association and on many of its committees.

David, who began teaching again full-time in 2015 at the University of Louisiana Monroe, is currently working on a grant proposal to develop a center for working with individuals with autism spectrum disorders.

He is married with two grown children and spends his off days volunteering his time to his church and organizations such as the Lion’s Club. “Service is a big part of my life,” says David, who lists being named a fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and seeing the day-to-day impact of his work on individual lives among his greatest accomplishments.

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Dr. Marylee M. JamesMarylee M. James
Adjunct Professor, Bellarmine University, Kentucky
Ph.D., Sociology/Political Science/African Studies, Boston University
B.A., Political Science/Sociology, Furman University

“During the three years I was at Furman, the financial aid director was more than a source of financial assistance – I could always count on him for advice on how best to use the money I had, and how to develop better financial management habits. … Financial assistance and compassionate commitment have made all the different in the life of one middle-aged lady who wanted to complete her education.” – Marylee M. James, NASFAA’s Success Stories, 1988

Marylee’s career is an inspirational story of giving back that stretched across two continents. After going back to school later in life, Marylee received her bachelor’s degree in political science and sociology from Furman University, followed by her Ph.D. in sociology, political science, and African studies from Boston University.

Following her time in Boston, Marylee moved to South Africa for seven years, where she earned a master’s degree, with distinction, in theology from the University of Natal. Marylee taught community development, marketable skills, and community organization to African students before returning to the U.S.

Once she was stateside, Marylee worked with the Commission on Religion in Appalachia before becoming a professor of sociology at Alice Lloyd College, located in eastern Kentucky. She became academic dean at Alice Lloyd and served in that capacity for 16 years, as well as another four years teaching, before retiring. Currently, Marylee teaches at Bellarmine University as an adjunct, co-chairs a subcommittee serving adjunct faculty issues, and is engaged with other non-profit organizations.

“I can never overstate how important [NASFAA] and financial aid have been to my life, and I hope and pray, through my life to others,” Marylee says. “The opportunities resulting from that education have been precious, rewarding, and beyond my wildest dreams. … ‘Thanks’ seems so insufficient.”

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Dawn Little ThunderDawn Little Thunder
High school P.E. and Health/Coach, Washington
M.E., Educational Technology
B.S., Physical Education, University of Idaho

“Dawn, a Native American, is a first generation college graduate from her family. Even though she has reading disabilities, she was able to overcome many obstacles to obtain her degree. She says that ‘financial aid made it possible to attend college.’” – Dawn Little Thunder, NASFAA’s Success Stories, 1988

Dawn is currently in her 31st year of teaching in for the Kennewick, WA, school district. After 15 years teaching elementary physical education, Dawn moved up to the high school where she teaches physical education and health and serves as the department chair and other committees within the district.

In 1997, Dawn earned her master's of education in educational technology. “Again, I had to have financial help to pursue my higher education and improve myself,” she said. “This was no easy task, as my learning disabilities still hindered by learning.”

Dawn adopted her son Lukas in June of 1995, which she calls her “greatest accomplishment.” Lukas, who graduated from high school in 2013, began playing ice hockey when he was 8, at which time Dawn became a volunteer coach and board member for the Tri-County Armature Hockey Association (TCAHA). She currently serves as a youth hockey official.

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Joleda Martin
Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Colorado Christian University
B.A., Regis College

“Graduating from college in 1988 remains my greatest source of pride. However, this would not have been possible if it were not for the financial assistance I received and the Regis College Commitment program.” - Joleda Martin, NASFAA Success Stories, 1989  

Joleda enrolled in college during a trying time in her life. Her father had just been sentenced to 30 years in a federal penitentiary, and her family was facing bankruptcy. Her first stop at Regis University as a freshman in 1984 was the financial aid office.

“It was only due to the work of financial aid at Regis, and specifically the director of financial aid that I was able to continue in college,” Joleda says. “Combined, the effort of financial aid and the support of this university enabled me to create a very different future for myself, rather than live out the dark pattern of crime and abuse I had grown up with.”

During her time at Regis, Joleda held a work-study job in the Dean’s office, and joined the speech team to earn additional funds to pay for school. After graduating, she joined a financial services firm in Denver and went on to assume the role of vice president of a division of the firm. After taking a few years off to spend time with her three children, Joleda returned to the workforce in 2008, specifically looking for a job in higher education as a way to give back. Eventually, she landed a job as director of admissions at Colorado Christian University, where she still works today.

“I am able to help young men and women, many just like me, reach their goal of achieving a college degree, and in many cases write a very different story for themselves and their future,” Joleda says. “Every dollar invested in my education paid off, and I am truly, deeply, and forever grateful for my education and time at Regis.”

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Bernadette Mendez-Groder
Licensed Social Worker, Northampton County Department of Human Services, New Jersey
M.S.W., Social Work, Marywood University
B.A., Psychology, DeSales University

“I was one of seven children raised only my mother. My mother was on welfare since she was about 15. In high school, a counselor prompted me to apply for financial aid to go to college. I would never have been able to attend college without financial aid.” – Bernadette Mendez-Groder, NASFAA’s Success Stories, 1990

In the 25 years since she first appeared in NASFAA’s Student Aid Success Stories, Bernadette has continued to make advocating for children in the foster care system her career. A licensed social worker for the Northampton County Department of Human Services’ Children, Youth and Families Division, Bernadette functions as an advocate for foster youth, works with parents to help them be better caretakers, and works with adoptees who are trying to reconnect with their birth families.

“I wanted to help kids with similar backgrounds to mine,” Bernadette says, adding, “I have dedicated my life to working with parents and helping them make better lives for themselves and their children.”

Bernadette graduated from DeSales University in Center Valley, PA, in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in criminal justice. She then went on to earn her master’s degree in social work, from Marywood University in Scranton, PA. She currently resides in New Jersey with her husband of 17 years.

Throughout her life, Bernadette has not forgotten the important role financial aid played in her successful career. “Without it, I would not have been able to go to college. It was critical,” she says. “I was poor and grew up in the projects. Without financial aid to help me, I would have been stuck.”

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Murguia Siblings
From left to right: Ramon Murguia, Rose Mary Murguia, Mary Helen Murguia, Janet Murguia, Martha Hernandez, Carlos Murguia, Alfred Murguia, Jr.
Carlos Murguia
District Judge, U.S. District Court, District of Kansas
B.S., J.D, University of Kansas
Janet Murguia
President, National Council of La Raza, Washington, DC
B.S., B.A., J.D., University of Kansas
Mary Helen Murguia
Circuit Judge, U.S. 9th Circuit of Appeals, California
B.S., B.A., J.D., University of Kansas
Ramon Murguia
Chair, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Michigan
B.AS., University of Kansas
J.D., Harvard University

“'Our father was a steel worker for 37 years, and our mother never worked outside our home. With seven kids – four in college at the same time – financial aid directly affected my position today,’ says Mary Murguia. ‘I tell Hispanic kids about the importance of education. I know they can get an education because we did. We’re not geniuses, just hard workers.’” – The Murguia Family, NASFAA’s Success Stories, 1990

If anyone understands the importance of financial aid, it’s the Murguia family. After immigrating to the United States and settling in Kansas, the Murguia’s saw six of their seven children attend college after high school, five of whom went to the University of Kansas.  “My parents had very little education – Dad completed seventh grade and Mom completed fifth grade – and yet they fundamentally understood how important an education was for their children,” Janet says. “I think it has proven to be true in our case, for we have seen outcomes that my parents could have only dreamed of.”

According to Ramon, his older brother, Alfred, who attended the University of Kansas, set the tone for college success. His siblings followed in his footsteps, forming close bonds with the financial aid staff at the University of Kansas. “The people in the financial aid office knew us and we knew them. They were people who saw a lot of potential in us,” Mary Helen says. “What we have accomplished just wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for caring people who believed in us, worked with us, and helped make the education happen.”

In the past 25 years, the Murguia siblings have gone on to achieve great success in their careers. Carlos is known as the first Latino to serve on the U.S, District Court in Kansas and his sister, Mary Helen, was the first Latina to serve on the U.S. District Court in Arizona. They are also the only brother and sister to sit on the Federal Bench. Janet is currently the president of the National Council of La Raza and is the former deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs in the Clinton Administration. Ramon is a practicing lawyer in Kansas City, MO, and is the first Hispanic to be named chair of the Board of Trustees of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

For Janet, she is most proud that her parents lived to see their children succeed. Their mother, now 91, still resides in the family home in Kansas City, while their father passed away in 2001. Two other Murguia siblings, Rosemary and Martha, also continue to live in Kansas City.

“We are one example of millions of examples out there,” Ramon says. “I see many families who struggle [financially]. We were impressed with the many people willing to help us, and so we feel like we should help others. That’s what this country should be proud of – that continuing focus on opening doors for others.”

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Linda Pelzer-DeRocheLinda Pelzer-DeRoche
Professor, Wesley College, Delaware
Ph.D., English, University of Notre Dame
B.A., English, Ball State University

“With financial aid, Linda began her academic career at Ball State, where she was graduated magna cum laude. She was also able to study for one term at the school’s London Centre. In the summers she worked to save money for school. ‘The first summer I worked in a factory, where, for eight hours a day, I taped wires together that were put into washing machines and dishwashers.’ During the other summers, she found work through the College Work-Study Program that was more in tune with her life aspirations, in a hospital for developmentally delayed children.” – Linda Pelzer-DeRoche, NASFAA’s Success Stories, 1990

Growing up, Linda always dreamed of getting a college education. But as the eldest of six children and the first in her family to attend college, she admits she was “apprehensive about my chances of success,” especially when she considered how she would afford her education. “But I was determined and I persevered,” she says, noting that financial aid made college a possibility for her.

“Not only did [financial aid] help me to pay for my education, it also helped me secure both campus and summer work,” Linda says. “Financial aid was a lifeline to my dreams, and it is there for every dreamer.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree from Ball State University, Linda earned her doctorate in English from the University of Notre Dame and has enjoyed a successful college teaching career for more than 30 years, most recently as a full professor at Wesley College. A recipient of a Fulbright research grant to Great Britain, Linda has had the opportunity to pursue her research interests, publishing seven books and numerous essays. She has recently been asked to edit a four-volume encyclopedia of 20th- and 21st-century American literature.

“None of these accomplishments would have been possible without my college education,” Linda says. “So my advice to other students is not to give up on their dream of college.”

Widowed in her mid-forties, Linda met her current husband, a Frenchman, while living in London and now enjoys a transatlantic life.

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Jeffrey RichardJeffrey Richard
MPP, Elected Trustee, Austin Community College District; Senior Consultant, J. L. Powers & Associates, LLC; Associate Minister, St. James Missionary Baptist Church
B.S., Political Science and Economics, Texas Christian University

“Tuition costs at Texas Christian would have been prohibitive for me had it not been for financial aid. I believed that I could live up to the tough academic standards, but it was financial aid that gave me the chance to prove it.  In pursuit of a Masters in Public Policy degree from Harvard University, I again needed to rely on student financial aid. More than any other single factor, student financial aid - in the form of loans and grants - made possible my attendance at Harvard.” - Jeffrey Richard, NASFAA Success Stories, 1988

For Jeffrey, financial aid not only gave him the opportunity to enroll in college without worrying about how to pay for it, it changed his family tree. “My family’s future has been set toward a different and immensely more exciting path because of the educational opportunities I received, all of which were underwritten through the investment and generosity of others in financial aid, grants, loans and work-study programs,” he says. Jeffery was the first in his family to attend and graduate from college, but going forward, he says, “no one related to me will be able to utter that phrase truthfully, because when I had the opportunity, I seized it and I changed the trajectory for them. Financial aid for me has in actuality not only benefitted myself, but also it has enhanced options for others who will never know me.”

In the years since his first Student Aid Success Stories interview, Jeffrey succeeded in winning, and being re-elected to, public office in Texas. “The vibrant community college system in Texas requires trustees to be elected by constituents; and in widespread, at-large contests, voters have placed their trust in me to represent them on the Austin Community College District Board of Trustees,” Jeffrey explains. Over the past 12 years, Jeffrey has been elected to serve in every officer position on the board, including two terms as its chairperson.

“It is an honor to serve the public’s interests,” says Jeffrey, who attributes his success, in part, to the financial aid he received, which allowed him “to focus on the purpose of college – obtaining an education and academic excellence.”

“My focus was single-minded on learning, and that made an important difference in my academic career,” he says.

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Marilyn Thompson Odom
Professor of Pharmaceutical, Social, and Administrative Sciences, Belmont University, Tennessee
Ph.D., University of South Alabama
B.S., Respiratory Therapy, University of South Alabama

“Without financial aid, I would not have been able to attend college, even at the undergraduate level. My family was unable to pay for my college education because there were three in college at the same time. Because of financial aid, I was able to worry less about financing my education and concentrate more on my academic performance. As a result, I graduated with honors and am now pursuing a Ph.D. in pharmacology.” - Marilyn Thompson Odom, NASFAA Success Stories, 1988

Marilyn is no stranger to making ends meet. The first day she arrived on her college campus in 1988, a Sunday, she had just $80 dollars to last her until Wednesday, when she would receive her financial aid money.

But the sacrifice was worth it to earn a college education. Since graduating and later earning her Ph.D. in 1994, she says her standard of living has increased “by orders of magnitude.”

“If you have the will to make the sacrifices that you need to make, you can be successful regardless of the issues that surround you,” she says.

In fact, she has taken her two daughters – Aspen, a freshman at Samford University, and Alexis, a sophomore at Lipscomb Academy High School – back to her childhood home to see the difference. “They appreciate what I accomplished to make life better for all of us,” she says.

Since 2009, Marilyn has been teaching at Belmont University’s College of Pharmacy, and spends her spare time volunteering for her church.

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David Williams
Circuit Court Judge, Virginia
J.D., Campbell University
B.S., Virginia Tech
A.S., Patrick Henry Community College

“David is an only child raised by his mother, a nurse. ‘We weren’t destitute, but college was expensive. If my mother had to pay the total cost of my education, I could not have gone. Receiving financial aid really took the strain off of my family.’” - David Williams, NASFAA Success Stories, 1990

Raised by a single parent, a mother who worked as a registered nurse, David did not come from a particularly wealthy family. Without financial aid, David says, he probably would not have made it to and through college. He is very grateful to have received financial assistance and acknowledges his counselor and the bank representative for the student loan he received, which allowed him to pursue his college education.

In his life, David has had two significant mentors: his grandfather, who had only a sixth grade education, and one of his professors, who held a doctorate and a medical degree. Despite their differences in education, both instilled in him the importance of having a vision and goals to support that vision.

David firmly believes that acquiring an education can inspire one to do more than they ever dreamed possible. In his early years, David was an attorney in private practice, but since his previous Student Aid Success Stories interview, the governor of Virginia appointed David a Circuit Court judge—a position he has held for the past 25 years.

David is now married with two grown children, two dogs, and two cats, and spends much of his free time volunteering and giving back to his community.

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