By LaMeka Howard
Photo below: Ashly during her teenage years.
Ashly McCants Giddens, a mother, a wife, and a daughter, knew one day her determination, her educational background, and her self-discipline will partner with her in graduating from law school. She knew the journey would be challenging; however, she accepted the challenge and position herself for it. She not only accepted the challenge, she also accepted and received what her high school teachers, her parents, and her grandparents provided her: wisdom, guidance and experience. She cemented this as a package in her mind and carried it along her journey. Her journey led her to graduating from UIC John Marshall Law School. There are people who may have not made it with her; however, Ashly, with the help and support of her husband and for her children, she made it. This is where it all began…
Photo below: Ashly when she was an baby sitting in her mother's lap.
Detroit, Michigan, an automotive, cultural, stylish, and sound of Motown music city, is Ashly birthplace. She was born to teenage parents, a singled-mother 14 years old and singled-father 15 years old, who surrounded her with unconditional love. Although her mother was a teenage parent, she did not allow teenage pregnancy to prevent her from graduating high school. While finishing to complete high school, there was a day care center, conveniently located across the street from her high school, that cared for Ashly during school hours. After school hours, her mother had a village of friends and her parents to assist with caring for Ashly, so she was able to study and to work. Ashly’s father did not complete high school; however, he obtained his General Education Development (GED) and worked too to care for his daughter. Ashly’s mother never cried, and she never saw her mother stressed. What she saw was her mother as a mother, cooking cleaning, showing love, going to work, studying late hours, and being home. She never took time off work, but she was laser focused in raising her daughter well. Her mother was an incredibly determined young lady and she kept her eyes on the prize: her daughter. When there were vicissitudes, her mother found possibilities. Anything is possible and fixable; she states, “You just have to find a way.” Her mother knew it was easier to quit and it was harder to try, but she knew that trying was greater than quitting. Her mother’s parents and her mother's step-mother were great supporters and encouraged their daughter that all things are possible. Ashly’s mother had a strong foundation of family surrounding her, and this gave her fuel. She received a position as a bank teller, and then had a career promotion receiving a position at Chrysler Motor company. Ashly saw her mother’s strength to preserve through anything, and this strength gave her fuel to achieve anything.
Ashly not only had the opportunity to spend quality time with her mother,
however, she had the opportunity to spend quality time with her father
too. She spent weekends, holidays, and
summers with him, and they had a great time together. She was blessed to have a large family that
taught her the importance of family and the reason family should stay together.
Ashly attended a college preparatory high school where she was on student council and occasionally gathered with friends on the weekends. When it was time to prepare for graduation, there were certain requirements, and one was to choose a career path to pursue. Once chosen, students researched internship opportunities to receive the necessary training, included it in their high school transcript, and included it as transferable skills on their college application. In order for Ashly to choose wisely, she had taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Test (MBTI), an assessment to test one’s aptitude, personality, and work interests, and to pair a person’s career path based on the MBTI results. Ashly’s results landed her career path as either a doctor or a lawyer. Surprisingly before Ashly took the MBTI, her desire was to become a doctor. Ashly researched the requirements for becoming a lawyer and a doctor, and decided to pursue law. Chemistry required courses to become a doctor were difficult and the highest grade she received was a C. Law was more promising, and her pursuit of one day attending law school was on her vision board.
There was a law firm that spark Ashly’s interest, so she contacted them about internship opportunities to pursue her career as being a lawyer. They gladly accepted her to their Corporate Law firm, and she was able to connect with attorneys to position her in the right direction. She had intellectual conversations around corporate law, and some say it is tedious; however, Ashly experienced something differently. She saw an opportunity to serve people in her community. She knew her choice was accurate and continued her internship program with the law firm. Once she completed her internship, she matriculated to Georgia State University (GSU) and participated in the pre-law club. Her participation involved meetings, listening to guest speakers, writing an article for the pre-law club's journal, and connecting with students. This opportunity introduced her to a new world: law and order.
While attending GSU, she met Justice Melton, at a pre-law event, and approached him to introduce herself. She continually asked, “Is there anything I can do to assist you at your chambers?” He responded, “Not at this time.” Throughout the conversation her determination fueled and asked him again, similar to Les Brown asking the top radio talk host, before his career excelled as a motivational speaker, “Is there anything I can do to assist you,” and eventually received a response by the radio talk host, “Get me a cup of coffee,” and Les did it. Thereafter when the radio talk host did not have anyone to run the radio show, he asked Les to help by putting the music in rotation; instead, Les took that opportunity to be the talk show host that day. That is where he received exposure. Ashly experience an opportune time, Justice Melton advised her of an opportunity opening for 2 to 3 months, due his employee taking a leave of absence, and she immediately accepted. She was a secretary for Justice Melton, at the Supreme Court of Georgia, preparing his files for court, connecting with other Supreme Court Justices, and assisting litigants with questions they had regarding court. This opportunity allowed her to be in the field, learning the work, gaining the experience so when she graduates from law school, she can use her repertoire as transferable skills. Ashly was able to complete her bachelor’s degree from GSU in Business Administration with a concentration in Finance. Her degree was a steppingstone to reaching the next step her in life: law school.
Eventually Ashly’s life broadened when she met her future husband in Atlanta, Georgia. They were employed at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, in the Management Trainee Program.
They were contemplating on moving from Georgia to Illinois, so Ashly started applying for law school in Illinois. She researched a list of schools based on programs offered, school rankings, and resources and the school she chose was UIC John Marshall Law School. In order to receive an acceptance letter, one of the most critical test for school entry is to prepare and to pass the LSAT (Law School Admission Test). (The LSAT analyzes one’s ability in reading comprehension, in analytical ability, and in logical reasoning). She studied continuously. When it was time for her LSAT, she took her time on the test. Afterwards, she waited for two months for the results, and only to find she did not meet the standard requirement for law school. She was disappointed because she diligently studied for hours and her work did not pay off. Her low score prevailed; Ashly prevailed too because she did not quit as a flash back of her mother’s strength shadowed her. She searched for top tutors and invested in herself to find someone to help her study. She took the LSAT a second time, and two months later, the results read again that her score did not meet the standard score requirement for law school. Ashly knew this was only a battle and it may have won on the paper that she failed, but in her mind the this process was not finished. She studied 12-hour days and she was determined she was going to pass this last time. When it was time for her LSAT, she prayed, and continued to have faith and she completed her test. Two months later came with her results. When retrieving her score, she took her time to look for results, by searching her name and for her score. She finally found it and she met the standard score requirement for law school. It was the most exciting day of her life. She knew this LSAT would not defeat her; instead, she defeated it. Her next move was to matriculate to UIC John Marshall Law School. Before applying to UIC John Marshall Law School, she checked the school score requirements for acceptance, to ensure she would be a candidate as a student. She applied online, submitted the necessary information to the registrar’s office for enrollment, viewed the course credit hours and the time frame it will take her to complete her degree, and patiently waited for a response. A couple of weeks later, she received her acceptance letter. She and her boyfriend were ecstatic, and they knew the doors were beginning to open for their future.
When she received her acceptance offer, their move to Chicago was in progress. Ashly moved first, and her boyfriend followed two months later. During this time Ashly was in Chicago by herself, she was preparing for school, arranging their house into a home, and setting a schedule for their new lifestyle. She expected some variables, but in her introduction, she was ready for the challenge. While her boyfriend was back in Atlanta, he was finishing up their move and making sure everything was in place with their personal affairs. Thereafter, they were together navigating their way through the Windy city, enjoying their new place they can call home, and they were happily calling the city of Chicago home.
After years of dating, Ashly did not know that he was going to propose until the day he returned from a long day’s shopping. When he returned home to see her and while her family was in town, he started showcasing all his items he purchased from the store. He reached in his bag, pulled the next item, by this time Ashly was perplexed, with an expression of question, “What is next honey?” He pulled out a box. Her facial expression paused and looked at him with a question mark, “What are you getting ready to do?” This was not an ordinary box; it was a box that possibly had a moment to pop the big question. Did he? He sure did, “Would you marry me?” He asked. She cried out: “yes!” Ashly was not expecting this proposal, but she was happy. They were 5 months pregnant when he proposed. She and he were glad to become one, and to be able to raise their son as one too.
She prepared for school, enrolled in a reasonable number of courses that would be conducive for her schedule and not feel overloaded. In one of her courses, she asked her professor for flexibility, due to a health-related matter, before her class began, and he denied her request. She asked another professor who taught the same course, re-shared her situation, and her professor agree to assist with flexibility. Ashly encourages women that if you are having a baby, had baby, or have a family, never be afraid of asking for help. “You never know when someone may be able to assist you.” Ashly surely did and was able to attend class and not having to compromise her family and her health.
When taking her first courses, it was like a mountain and asking how to climb it? Well in order to climb, one must know the name of the mountain, one must study the mountain, and one must have the right tools to climb it. In Ashly’s case she knew her mountain and was on track with how to climb it. Her mind was ready to receive new information, she was ready to work her assignments, and she was ready to study. There were nights she only received 3 hours of sleep and days her time did not seem meaningful to others, but to her it meant a lot. Although she did not spend adequate quality time with her family, she knew one day it will be a return on her investment with interest. Sometimes there were sacrifices and opportunity costs to achieve something better for her family, and that was their goal. She would repeatedly read books, ask effective questions for understanding, and was very attentive to detail.
Photo below: Ashly's Husband, Ashly, and their son: Lincoln.
In school and pregnant was not simplistic, it had its challenges with Braxton hicks, baby Lincoln positioning himself in an uncomfortable way for her to sit, having food cravings, and having sleepless nights made it tough some days for her to manage. Morning sickness eventually dissipated. Mornings felt slothful, but she knew in a couple of months it will end—after the second trimester. When she slept well, she felt relaxed, but for a short moment, and she would repeat her schedule: wake up, pray, shower, eat, kiss her husband, go to class, come home, cook or some days her husband would cook, study, and sleep approached her eyes and turned to night. Books were mounting for her courses, classes were becoming difficult (especially having to meet deadlines), motherly duties called after having her first son Lincoln, and her husband asked for quality time.
To some of us, this seemed overwhelming and possibly quitting, but this did not break Ashly. Instead they came together and had an intellectual conversation about her plans for school, their marriage, and how he can collaborate with his wife while she is attending school. They discussed their future, and how this situation was only temporary. Ashly encourages women that if they are pursuing their dreams, make sure the person they are dating is on board because this will reduce static in a relationship. She says, “If this person does not understand what you would like to do, then this person is not for you.” What is remarkable about their relationship is they had a conversation, worked together, and were supportive to one another. Her husband graduated from Georgia Southern University with his bachelor’s degree and is now a Cyber Liability Underwriter.
Through nights of sweat and tears, through hours of study time, through days of researching case studies, through nights of their, then new born baby (Lincoln) sleeping on her chest and daily feedings while studying for class, through times of changing diapers, through times of weekly deadline assignments, through times of missing quality time with her husband, through times of her law school journey, through the time of their move, through the times of her failed LSAT attempts, through memories of her mother’s footsteps and strength, through her grandparents’ teachings, through the quality time with her father and his determination to receive his GED, through her time with Justice Melton’s office, through the times of her internship with a corporate law firm, through the pre-law club experience, and through times she asked for her help and was denied, led her to graduating from UIC John Marshall Law School in 3.5 years, and graduated with a Juris Doctor degree in December 2018 and sworn in as an Attorney. What a day; an amazing one for her and for her family, and one that will never be forgotten.
Graduation Photos: (l) Ashly and her father. (r) Ashly and her mother.
Photo: below Ashly's son Lincoln and her mother.
The next steppingstone in her journey was to prepare for the bar exam and having to pass the Character and Fitness test. This process examines one’s past regarding his or her personal life: work history, court related matter(s), and family background. This step reminds us that our past is important to lead a people to having a successful future. The state’s bar exam was an official examination to give permission in practicing as a lawyer. There are unlimited amount of tries to pass and she tried two times and pass on the second. Her second pregnancy had complications that limited her ability to study; however, she manage to still try. Through rigorous studying and with dedication, she passed. She will not trade her journey for anything. Sometimes when one is on his or her journey, doubt surfaces and one may ask himself or herself, “Is this worth it?” Just reply, “Yes.”
Ashly’s word of wisdom is from a famous quote from, Shirley Chisolm “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” She encourages that if you are not invited, find your way to get in and be part of the experience.
Ashly is seeking a position, at a law firm, as a Privacy Law Attorney. In addition, she is interested in coaching other parents who are pursuing a career as an attorney to guide them on how to achieve their goals without adding more responsibility to their schedule. There are daily posts from Ashly, on her LinkedIn page, about Privacy Law Daily tips for businesses and for consumers so definitely keep up-to-date with her postings and familiarize oneself with one's privacy rights.
Anyone who is interested in learning more about Ashly’s journey, receiving Privacy Law Daily tips, or law school advice, feel free to contact and follow her on social media at:
This mountain was difficult to climb; however, it was worth climbing. She is not finished, and there is more to come.