If there is one word to describe Amber Gray, it’s tenacious. After all, the 31-year-old College of Charleston student’s path to a degree has been both uncharted in her family and an uphill battle, given the many demands on her time and attention.

Thanks to her impressive will, as well as philanthropic support, Gray today trains her tenacity on juggling a job, raising two young children and pursuing an undergraduate degree in the School of Professional Studies at the College of Charleston North Campus.

Amber Gray with School of Professional Studies Dean Godfrey Gibbison. (Photos provided)

“In my family on my mom’s side, I was the second person to finish high school,” says the North Charleston native, whose degree was preceded only by one uncle. In her father’s entire extended family, she was the third family member to do so, following two cousins who graduated before her. And she did so in the midst of considerable family turmoil.

“My parents were in and out of prison my whole life,” says Gray. “They unfortunately got into drugs when they were 20 years old.”

Because of this, Gray was raised by both her grandmothers, who took care of her starting at the age of 2 after her father was incarcerated until she was 10. Similarly, her mother spent more than 15 years cycling in and out of prison during Gray’s early life.

“She would get in trouble and go back,” says Gray. “It was always stealing and just things related to trying to get drugs.”

Having since overcome those challenges, each parent has now cultivated a friendship with their daughter. However, there were challenges still for Gray. After having a child with an abusive former partner, she eventually found new happiness in a supportive husband, and the couple and her 5-year-old son this July welcomed a second baby boy to the family.

Of course, the demands of family and employment results in a particularly full plate as Gray pursues a college degree, which builds upon a two-year degree she earned from Trident Technical College. This was initiated while she was still in high school through the help of a guidance counselor, with 17-year-old Gray securing the necessary financial aid on her own to complete her associate’s degree.

However, it was not until few years later, after joining the workforce, that she realized the lack of a full four-year undergraduate degree was holding her back professionally. With the encouragement of her husband, an attorney, Gray began her studies at the College in 2016.

All of her 60 Trident credits transferred, and she was able to start as a junior. After spending a few hours with a guidance counselor at the College and taking tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, she elected to major in project management.

“We realized how much I love organizing and planning,” says Gray. “That really made sense for me.”

It was around this time that Gray also discovered that the logistics of getting to the downtown campus from her home in Beaufort County were causing her undue stress, so it made sense that she should pursue a degree in her major through the College of Charleston’s North Campus.

Amber Gray with her husband and two children.

Today, Gray manages to balance caring for two young children, managing customer service concerns for Dunkin’ Donuts from home and steadfastly gaining credits – many through online courses – to get that coveted degree.

A good deal of pressure in her hectic life has been relieved by the financial support she has received for her studies. Gray is a 2018–19 recipient of the School of Professional Studies scholarship fund and of various other grants and scholarships.

While alleviating the financial burden on her family, she says the support also relieves those small daily stressors by allowing her to afford to pick up a quick meal when course loads constrain her time. And, while there are certainly many demands on her time with all that is in play, Gray knows that, together, those components have created a meaningful, full life.

As a child, she had been urged by her grandmother to set her sights simply on succeeding by way of a good marriage. Gray has done that and is pursuing more.

“My grandmother always said, ‘You have to marry a doctor or a lawyer,’” she recalls. “So it so happened to have worked out that way, but I’m also doing my thing, too.”

With her trademark drive and commitment, she is certain to do so for years to come, empowered by a degree from the College of Charleston.

To support the School of Professional Studies, visit https://giving.cofc.edu/SPS