High School Dropout to Lawyer: A Library Success Story

By Carol S.

This is my father’s story: He was a high school dropout. Although he loved to read, he didn’t like school, so he would frequently ditch class and hide out at the Detroit Public Library, devouring books until the truant officer found him and dragged him back to school. Eventually he dropped out of school altogether in order to work. (This was during the Great Depression, and his family necessarily valued employment over education.)

When he was in his mid-thirties—with a wife, four children, and a mortgage—a lawyer friend told my father that he “thought like a lawyer” and should consider a career change. My father sheepishly admitted to his friend that he didn’t have a college degree; in fact, after receiving his GED while in the Navy, he’d only taken a few college classes. His friend did some research and found that, at that time, law schools admitted a small percentage of “non-traditional students” based on factors such as related work experience. My father made inquiries but, lacking the related experience, was rejected. He persisted, however, and asked if the school would reconsider if he passed the entrance exam. They agreed, and when my “dropout dad” scored in the 99th percentile, he was admitted to law school. A boy whose guidance counselor told him that he’d be nothing more than a ditch digger if he dropped out of school eventually graduated from Detroit College of Law and worked as an attorney for almost thirty years.

All this to say, my father has always credited the Detroit Public Library as his real source of an education. It was a place where a contrary kid who quit school, from a family with very little money, could still better himself. He and my mother instilled their love of reading and respect for libraries in all of their children. My father’s experience shows that libraries can be an important stepping stone to achieving the American Dream.

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