Going through college is hard enough. But Ieshia Champs, 33, did it while she was raising five children on her own.
Back in April 2018, Champs posted a picture from her graduation from Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law that quickly went viral: her posing in her cap and gown with her five children.
In the picture, Champs held a sign that said, “I did it!” Her children’s signs read variations of: “We did it!” and “I helped!” The caption on the picture read “Ieshia Champs, Magna Cum Laude.”
Now, Champs has passed the bar exam and is officially a lawyer.
Her story is a one of enormous success. Graduating at the top of her law class, Champs was once a foster child and a high school dropout.
But she didn’t always have the confidence or peace that she does today. Champs said she had many emotional breakdowns along the way.
Life hasn’t been easy for her. As a single mother, she faced hardship and loneliness. In 2009, she lost all her possessions in a fire and was let go from her job as a customer service representative at Sprint. Her mother had a stroke. Then, she lost her ex-husband to cancer — while only two months away from giving birth.
Champs said she was completely overwhelmed.
She tried to commit suicide one day by running her car off a Texas highway. But a passing car drove by so closely, she was too frightened to continue. Champs said the memory still causes her pain.
At that point, she didn’t know how to continue. But her pastor, Louise Holman, suggested she return to school to get her GED. Holman also told Champs she should become a lawyer. Champs was amazed that Holman knew her secret ambition.
It was a long journey.
Champs took high school GED classes then got her associate degree from Houston Community College. She went on to get her bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston-Downtown and her law degree from Texas Southern University.
She put herself through school through a combination of student loans and part-time jobs, then paid internships.
“When you feel like you’re falling, and you feel like it’s impossible, just keep going,” Champs said. “You don’t have to give up on your dream because of something that you’re currently going through.”
Champs said she hopes to practice family and juvenile law.
And she would know a lot about family. Her children are her biggest supporters. She said whenever she felt like she didn’t have the strength to keep going, her children encouraged her to rally.
“It feels amazing,” she said. “I feel blessed. I’m grateful; I’m thankful. All of that wrapped up in one.”
Video from Champs’ May hooding ceremony shows her performing a joyful dance when she received her tassels. Her happiness was infectious.
And Champs isn’t letting herself get defined by her past tragedies. Rather, she’s forging ahead to the future.
“Never give up,” she said. “The worst thing you can do is fall. Your past does not define you. Just step out on faith; just go for it.”
Champs also credits her strong Christian faith for helping her get through her long years of struggle and to where she is today. She says she gives the credit to God. But she has plenty of supporters in her own house, too.
Champs’ children are between the ages of 5 and 14.
She attributes them with much of her strength. As for the viral photo from her law school graduation, Champs says she didn’t even want to do it. After her long day, she was exhausted and wanted to go home and relax. But she finally let herself be convinced. And now? She’s thrilled that she did.
Her viral graduation photo has circulated the internet for more than 2 million times, inspiring many others. It was posted by Richard Holman, one of Champs’ church leaders.
“My five children kept me going, and the grace of God,” she said. “There were a lot of times when I cried, and I had many numerous emotional breakdowns along the way, but I did it. Actually, we did it. I couldn’t have asked for a better family and group of friends to help me along the way.”
Champs said her children helped her in practical ways, too.
David Jr., 14; Davien, 12; Khassidy, 11; Kaleb, 8; and E’mani, 5, made sure she had all the support she needed at home. They were completely invested in her education and her success. She said while she was working at home, doing chores like cooking dinner or her kids’ hair, they were busy at work reviewing flashcards or even sitting in as a mock jury for her to practice.
“We’re so proud of our mom — she’s been our rock,” said David Jr. “She’s been an amazing role model for me and my sisters and brothers, and I’m so glad that she’s my mom.”
Now, after passing the Texas State Bar Exam, Champs is ready to practice law.
As for her viral photo, it reminds her not only of all her past struggles and triumphs but also of her bright future — and the love and support of her three sons and two daughters.
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