Our Stories

Greg Scott: Following His Heart

Greg Scott MAT'07 is 47 years old and walks around campus with a soft-sided Superman lunchbox. No, it's not a gift from a young child at home; it was given to him by his wife, who says he's a superman for doing what he has in the last year.

Some people may question the wisdom of the choice Scott made, but truthfully, he desired to follow his heart and do something that made him happy. And that meant leaving his 20-year career as a lawyer, making more than $150,000 a year, to go back to school and become a teacher, making less than one-third his previous income.

"I remember walking across the stage when I got my law school diploma and thinking, 'I won't do this forever,'" he says. "I think there's a little voice people with advanced degrees often hear inside their heads that says, 'Is this really what I want to do?' For me it was a sense of full wallet, empty heart, and I can't live like that."

Scott enrolled this fall in Willamette's School of Education after a year of soul-searching and figuring out his next step in life. During his long career as a civil litigation trial lawyer, he had worked for firms, corporations and the government, and often traveled across the country defending product manufacturers against civil lawsuits.

He enjoyed his career, but he reached the point that he felt something was missing, that he wanted to do something that would give him more personal fulfillment. He quit a job working for a telecommunications company and spent a year researching other career options. He recalled all the times he had written articles and given talks about his work as a lawyer. "I realized the happiest time in my job, in many ways, was doing that kind of work," he says. "And I thought, 'That's teaching.'"

Scott spent his time off volunteering at high schools in Portland and Lake Oswego, where he lives with his wife and teenage daughter (his son is in college). He realized that teaching high school had a strong appeal. "What I like about high school is that it's compulsory," he says. "When people have to be there, it puts more of an onus on the teacher to excel at teaching. I want that challenge. The hard part is getting to the kids who don't want to be there, who would rather be somewhere else. If you can reach one of those kids, then you're really teaching."

Scott's choice to leave a high-salaried career for a job often considered underpaid is ironic considering one of his main reasons for joining the law profession was money. Scott was the second of nine children born to poor parents who had not even completed a high school education. His father spent 46 years working in factories in rural Minnesota; whenever he got laid off from a job, the family would go on food stamps. "I thought, 'This is not what I want to do,'" Scott says. "The ticket out of a rural small town is education, so I bought a ticket."

Scott was interested in theatre and speech, but he didn't want to be a starving artist -- he wanted to get out of poverty. So he went into law.

Even with a law degree, Scott discovered he would need more training if he wanted to be a teacher. "As I started to work with kids, I realized there's a huge difference between speaking to a group of lawyers and speaking to a group of high school students," he says. "I also realized there's a big difference between knowing something and teaching about it."

When deciding where to go to school, Scott talked with the people he thought would know best: his potential future employers. He asked school principals about where he should get his degree, and they told him that even when they were facing cutbacks on their campuses, they never turned down interviews with education students from Willamette.

That endorsement, combined with being able to earn his Master of Arts in Teaching degree in just 10 months, convinced him to enroll at Willamette. He started the program in August and already is excited about what he's learning. "When it's your second career, you come to it with a whole different level of commitment," he says. "It's not something you just fall into after college because you don't know what to do."

Not that the temptation of his old career doesn't continue to pull at him. Recently Scott received a job offer from a former client looking for legal counsel -- an offer with a salary comparable to his last law job. He discussed it with his wife, but then turned it down. "I realized the money could not deter me from my path," he says. "This is what I want to do."