Vance, a native of Middletown, Ohio, explained that he realized early in life that his family would have to rely on him, and that he would have to leave Middletown in order to achieve stability and success. Vance’s grandmother, who he called “Mamaw”, encouraged him in his ambitions.
According to Vance, Mawmaw was “not an educated woman, but was a very smart woman” who was “remarkably perceptive about how social class works in America.”
“As much as I love and admire Mamaw’s faith in the American dream, and I think it’s an important part of motivating yourself, there was something a little naïve about it, if I’m being honest,” Vance explained. “There were a lot of kids from our community and I was the only one who made it to a place like [Yale Law School], and I think if that’s true it does suggest that there’s something a little bit broken down about the social mobility-based American dream. There clearly is. We know that most of the kids who come from a rough home, come from a rough community, just don’t reach the educational elite in our society. I think that’s a real problem.”
Vance described Yale Law School as a culture shock to him, and recalled noticing that personal relationships at the school were forged on a transactional basis.
“Most people weren’t even aware of how transactional things were,” he said. “It was like the air that they breathed. That’s the way I would put it. They had grown up in that world, they … didn’t see it as manipulative, that was just sort of the way it worked to them. And in some ways, I kind of pity them for thinking about it like that.”
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