Matthew Graham would look at this wife and daughter everyday as motivation to push through the rigors of law school. His challenging University of Baltimore program often tested his limits—from sleepless nights to 15-hour days of working full-time then heading straight to class.
Luckily, his determination paid off hugely, landing him at the seventh spot in his class with a 3.6 GPA. But the Maryland native took it a step further—he scored a 309 on the state’s bar exam. To put that into context, the average score to pass is 266 and most students have take it at least three times. Graham placed in the 94th percentile after taking it once.
“I didn’t offer myself the choice to fail—there was too much at stake,” Graham told ESSENCE just an hour after he was officially sworn in on May 26.
During the course of his law school tenure he proposed to his then girlfriend, now wife and had his first child. Often, he would be juggling a full-time job, new matrimony and fatherhood, but that didn’t deter his goal.
“I just told myself that I wouldn’t do this again,” regarding re-taking the bar, which is a six-hour, essay-ridded test.
To prep, he said that he’d memorize outlines, and would complete 50 multiple choice practice questions daily, investing 55-60 hours/week for 9 weeks.
“Every question I got, right or wrong, I reviewed it,” he shared. “I wanted to make sure I was learning the law, so I took the time to review every question. Then throughout the day, I would do what Themis (a fully online bar review course) would tell me to do, whether that be skimming or watching through some videos, reviewing and memorizing outlines.”
After the winning strategy led him to the record-breaking score, Graham and his wife took to social media with the good news, and the world rejoiced with him. His Facebook video has garnered millions of views in a matter just a few weeks.
This joy is well warranted.
Black lawyers make up only 5% of the U.S. legal community and according to an American Bar Association, African Americans pass bar exam at the lowest rate among all other racial groups.
“I understand how significant this is,” he said. “Even ever since I passed the bar exam, when I would walk around, for example, today, walking around in the courthouse and you see Black staff or Black parents of other successful people who pass the bar, it’s just pride. They just smile. We know how difficult it is for us to pass this exam. The barriers that are in our way, the bar exam, African Americans, we score the lowest on the bar exam historically. And I don’t think that it’s just enough to say, oh, it’s just because you guys didn’t work as hard or you guys aren’t as smart. No. There is a racial component there that makes our journey more difficult. So, it’s just a lot of pride knowing that regardless of what was put in my way, I was going to get this done.”
And he did it.