When Sam Jones started full-time at Chaminade, he had overcome a lifetime of challenges.
By the time he reached 21 years old, he had lived through neglect, foster care and childhood homelessness, had lost close friends due to crime and military service, and lost close relatives due to illness. He didn’t know what career path he should take in his life and lacked scholarly direction. But he knew a lot was riding on him getting an education.
He came to Chaminade campus when his time on active duty in the military ended.
The Marines had offered him a clean slate—a place where he could prove himself through hard work. And he did. He entered as an infantryman and spent most of his time in the field. But he moved up the ranks quickly.
He had been taking Chaminade classes in the evening, and something inside of him really wanted to experience life as a full-time student living on campus. He also really didn’t want to return to the mainland without having some direction.
So he entered reserve status and moved into a shared apartment on campus with two Chaminade basketball players.
It was intimidating at first—the experiences he had had in the civilian world as a child were anything but typical.
“I had a great career as a Marine and it remains one of the most remarkable experiences of my life,” says Jones. “At the same time, as far as the civilian community was concerned, I was woefully intimidated by it and didn’t understand it.”
While the military had offered Jones a way out, Chaminade offered him a way forward.
At Chaminade, he began to see that there was something special outside of the military. That a sense of service and brotherhood existed in the civilian world also.
And he began to recognize that his reservations about what he could accomplish weren’t unique to him.
“We are all walking around with certain imperfections, fears and doubts about ourselves,” says Jones. “Some of my classmates who had traditional childhood experiences and came from wealthy families had just as many doubts and anxieties as I did, just of a different nature. Through sharing our imperfections and triumphs, we all became more aware of our individual talents.”
There was something about the way his professors believed in his abilities that helped propel him forward. They didn’t allow him to engage in self-doubt or disconnect himself from those around him.
With the constant encouragement he received at Chaminade, he began to reorient his thinking. He began to recognize his own unique talents and the contributions he could make in the civilian world.
The constant narrative at Chaminade of being loved and serving others, combined with his understanding of the frustration and indignation that so many in his childhood community felt, motivated Jones.
When one of his professors encouraged him to study law, Jones’ initial response was one of self-doubt. But through their discussion, he realized that entering the legal profession would provide him with the greatest opportunity to serve others.
“The talk fueled my desire to make a positive difference in the lives of others through the law,” recalls Jones. “But perhaps more importantly, I began to understand that what one person can do, I can do.”
Jones graduated with a degree in philosophy from Chaminade in the 1990s and then went on to get his Juris Doctor from Texas Southern University where he graduated cum laude. He got his advanced law degree, with recognition, from Columbia University.
His heart was always in legal education, so after a distinguished career in the military and working in corporate litigation, he joined the faculty at the John Marshall Law School at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Today, he serves as an associate dean and professor of law at the school and specializes in legal ethics, social justice and contracts.
And in January of 2020, he was selected by The National Black Lawyers to its list of Top 100 lawyers in Illinois, an exclusive invitation-only list limited to those who have achieved outstanding results in their careers.
If anyone knows how much an education can change someone’s entire trajectory, it’s Jones. Education was his ticket, and he attributes much of his success to his experience at Chaminade. “When I think of an institution that has had a profound impact on my life, of course I think of the military,” says Jones. “I ultimately served for 20 years. But I also think of Chaminade, Texas Southern and Columbia. And without Chaminade, there is no Texas Southern and there is no Columbia.”