Students Work Their Way Through Law School With the Help of Hugh Welborn

Academic justice, scholarship link GSU law donor Hugh Welborn and student Rebecca White

Virtual endowment eases financial pressure for working law students

Academic discipline is usually a touchy subject, but it serves as a powerful link between Georgia State University College of Law student Rebecca White’s future field and law alumnus Hugh Welborn’s (J.D., 1986) career history.

White is pursuing a law degree with help from a virtual endowment that Welborn funded recently through the GSU Foundation. The endowment created the first Hugh W. Welborn Scholarship in Law to help ease the financial pressure on a current student who juggles full-time work and classes as he once did.

Rebecca White and Hugh Welborn

Rebecca White and Hugh Welborn

During the week, White works from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. without a lunch break so she can make it to first-year law classes by 5:30 p.m. She works as Judicial Coordinator in the Office of Student Integrity at Georgia Tech, where she deals with students who may get a second chance – or not.

“I’m passionate about educating students through accountability and working to create a community of care and integrity,” said White, the daughter of Susan White (B.S. 1979, M.Ed. 1984) and Doug White (B.B.A., 1978, M.P.Acct. 1988).

“Sometimes when I meet with students, it is the first time that they have truly been held accountable for their actions. Although it’s a tough lesson to learn, and comes with consequences and sometimes a ‘time out’ from the institute, in most cases the students later say it was a defining moment in their personal growth.”

Such a moment was critical for Welborn in his personal growth and law career, and ultimately led to his scholarship, which is part of a unique type of funding called a virtual endowment.

Welborn, who practices in his hometown of Anderson, S.C., struggled to get into law school until being accepted into GSU’s first class in 1982.  He entered with a strong work ethic, having worked as many as five jobs at a time, starting with a neighborhood lawn care business he set up at age 13.

His inspiration was his father, Charles Welborn, a sole practitioner in Anderson who had passed away, making Hugh Welborn even more determined to be financially independent.

In Atlanta, he juggled working as a host at a Buckhead hotel (the Terrace Garden Inn) and then in advertising — to the detriment of his schoolwork.

“I fell asleep when I was studying, and there were all-nighters when I went from work to school and didn’t go to bed at all,” he said.

“I did not want to ask anyone for money. I didn’t want to bother my mom, who was a widow, or my siblings, who were married and building their own families. I did what I thought I had to do. I figured I could make a living and go to law school, but it was close to impossible, and then it was too much.”

Welborn’s grades barely missed the passing mark to continue into his second year. He was called before a committee that would decide if he would stay a student. “If you let me continue, I will make this university proud,” Welborn told L. Lynn Hogue, who is still a faculty member.

One stipulation of Welborn’s academic probation was no outside work. Welborn ended up getting family loans that he quickly repaid when he graduated and became, like his father before him, a sole practitioner in his hometown. Clients sometimes pay him in farm vegetables (everything but collards, which he cannot stand.)

The satisfaction he felt in the law, and the gratitude for his education, always made him feel close to the campus 125 miles south.

“Georgia State gave me a first chance when no one else gave me a first chance,” said Welborn, who also serves on the College of Law Board of Visitors.  “When they gave me a first chance and I messed up, they gave me a second chance, and I’ll never forget that.”

Welborn’s path crossed with White’s as a result of his virtual endowment. This allows a donor to set up a perpetual scholarship endowment through a will bequest, IRA or retirement plan beneficiary designation, a whole life insurance policy beneficiary designation, or other deferred method.

Each year, the donor makes a payment to the foundation that funds a current scholarship.

“I am helping someone even now, and when I met Rebecca, she reminded me of myself,” said Welborn, referring to a College of Law scholarship luncheon in September.

Like him, White highly values her financial independence. With it, she can choose any career path.

“This scholarship allows me to attend GSU College of Law at a very low cost, which keeps me from taking out student loans,” said White, a native of Lilburn who has a degree in social science from LaGrange College and masters of education in higher education from the University of South Carolina.

“Attending the part-time program at GSU enabled me to accept a full-time position working in the area I’m passionate about, which is college student conduct. Additionally, I know that the areas I’m considering are not as lucrative as most areas of law, so I wanted to get my law degree while also remaining debt free – an option that only GSU could offer.”

The scholarship is perhaps even more significant to her as a symbol of support.  “It is a huge encouragement to continue working hard and putting in the long hours needed to work full-time and go to class at night,“ she said.

For Welborn, his gift is a tribute to his belief that “it’s all about persistence and not giving up on a dream. This world is full of people who don’t achieve because they don’t work at it. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist, just determined.”

White is the first recipient of this scholarship, and hopes to pursue law in a higher education setting, in student conduct or adjudication, or as a university general counsel. Meeting Welborn helped her see that she didn’t have to fit into any stereotype.

“His own definition of success was not derailed or distracted by what others thought or expected,” she said. “To see [Welborn’s career] and understand that the law isn’t all about working horrific hours and losing yourself in your career was very helpful and assuring. While it’s important to do well, most of the battle is just in finishing.”

What Welborn learned through his second chance at GSU was to stay grounded, He has taken many pro bono cases, served as a part-time municipal judge for 20 years and even today still cleans his office bathrooms.

To teach White that her standing in law school means little in the long run, Welborn asked her one question.

“What is the person called who finishes last in your class?”

White didn’t know.

“Lawyer,” he replied.

—By Michelle Hiskey; Contact Kim Cretors, (404) 413-3424