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Ivy League Degree: Now What?

When Chantel Brown was a child in rural Morganton, N.C., she savored the illusion that she “could come off as middle class.” That doesn’t take much when one-quarter of the residents live in poverty. But Brown cleaved to the bling she had: her family’s one-story brick home in a one-street subdivision with a fancy name, River Hills.

Underneath that veneer of status, though, her extended family battled every cliché you’ve heard about rural life: low education levels, poverty and “an addiction to something.”

Her father, a long-haul trucker, was rarely there. Her mother, in poor health, relied on Brown for help. Her parents struggled with debt. Brown felt the weight of low expectations, of being seen as just another poor black girl from the South. “Even from preschool,” she says, “I knew I was expected to be a teen mom.”