Celeste Jones has always been a leader, from her very first job to her current run for judge. She makes the hard work and sacrifice of being an attorney look effortless, because for her, it’s her passion that drives her to look forward to going into work everyday. Her road to success has had its bumps and hurdles, but Celeste was able to triumph from her personal challenges and blossom into the strong, fearless woman she is today. We are excited to share her story with you, read on to learn more about her phenomenal journey.
Name: Celeste Kathleen Jones
Hometown: Chicago, IL; born and raised on the west side, K town
Schools: Northern Illinois University, Loyola University School of Law
Undergraduate Major: Sociology with an emphasis in Criminology
Current Company: Office of the Cook County Public Guardian
Current Job Title: Supervising Attorney, assigned to the Adult Guardianship Division. Appointed as a guardian for people that the court has found to be unable to manage their affairs.
If you went to a Historically Black College/University (HBCU), why didn’t you attend a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) and vice versa?
My parents firmly believed that I should go to a university that more accurately represented the “real world.” They felt I should learn how to interact with all races, more specifically, with caucasian people because that’s who I would have to interact with once I graduated from college. If I had to do it all over again, I would have considered an HBCU, as I believe the culture at an HBCU can be more supportive. At least that’s what I’ve been told by friends who have attended HBCUs.
Why did you choose the college you went to?
I had a cousin that went to Northern Illinois University and it had a very good program. My parents had a lot to do with which college I went to. It was close enough that if I needed to get home I could, but it was far enough where I could still enjoy my independence. My mom researched and felt that was the best choice for me.
How did you pay for college? (Specific scholarships or grants)
I was able to get an academic scholarship. It paid only for my tuition, not room and board. My parents helped pay that and I had to maintain a certain GPA to keep the scholarship. For spending money, I got a job in the cafeteria. That was actually my first job and I made supervisor there too.
What organizations really enhanced your experience and touched the work you do now?
I would say I’m kind of a loner and have always had a small circle of friends. In undergrad I was involved in the Black Student Union and participated in Miss Black NIU. I won second place. I did a compilation of poems and got a standing ovation. That was pretty fun. I was also inducted into Alpha Kappa Delta, the sociology honor society. One of the professors said I was a very good writer and I think that was the first time I had heard that . In law school I was Vice President of the Black Law Students Association.
Because of the racial makeup at both of the schools I attended , participating in these organizations was absolutely necessary. I got used to being one of the only black students, but you need that community and support network of people who have the same goals as you when it’s time to form study groups or need tips from those in a grade ahead of you. There use to be a saying about each year, “First year they scare you to death, Second year they work you to death, Third year they bore you to death.”
Most influential college professor and/or course?
The professor who said I was a good writer really helped give me confidence about my writing skills and I took that with me to law school where you do a lot of writing. When I started practicing someone else complimented me again – on my motions and briefs. It’s always good to have the encouragement.
What is a typical workday like for you?
I’m ONE of the early birds that gets to work an hour and half before the office opens. My typical day as a supervisor can include answering questions from my staff, attending meetings, a lot of phone calls, a lot of writing, dealing with the IRS, reviewing court documents to ensure my client (the Public Guardian) meets his obligations to account to the court about how he manages the assets of the people he serves who are under his guardianship and going to court if necessary. It’s very detail-oriented work, and I enjoy it because I’m helping the people we serve by keeping watch over their assets and keeping our office accountable. Now that I’m a candidate for judge, my lifestyle changed overnight.
Unconventional or Conventional career path? Explain.
I’d say conventional. I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer so I went straight to law school after college.
Does your college degree relate to the work you do?
Absolutely, more so I would say in the beginning of my career. For the first eight years of my career I was assigned to the child protection division. I was the attorney and the guardian ad litem for abused and neglected children. I would say my degree in sociology was directly related to that because I saw first hand how things like addiction to drugs and incarceration of parents affected children. I carried over what I learned working in this division to what I do now in the adult guardianship division.
How did you cope with dealing with case work that could affect you emotionally?
The things I saw on a daily basis were very difficult to see, but as a professional, you have to maintain a professional detachment. You do not want to be numb to what your client has gone through. You still want to see that and it has to be able to touch you so you can advocate for them. It’s important to understand the gravity of your work to do your job. I learned to strike a balance. I don’t think you can do that type of work and not be affected in some way.
Has being Black affected your career? If so, how?
I am an African American woman. I think there were decisions I felt I was forced to make and situations I was placed in because of my race. In law school I experienced the phenomenon of being invisible. I was the only African American woman in my section, the only African American period. I noticed that in study groups I had to speak up in order to be heard and sometimes that meant I might have to interrupt somebody. Like I mentioned earlier, over the course of my career I think there were decisions and situations I was placed in because of my race but when I look back on it, it only made me stronger. Sometimes where you may have to take a detour, it is only to steer you into the direction of something better. Being black has had positive effects on my life.
As an African American woman I feel empowered because of the things I’ve gone through; good or bad. I think it gives me a deeper insight, a unique insight that I think can only add value to my work and to my career.
What has been your greatest career highlight thus far?
My decision to continue my commitment to public service and run for judge. It is probably the biggest and most challenging decision I’ve had to make. I have a talent and love for leadership, for teaching and for guiding. I’ve excelled to supervisor in every position I’ve worked. I feel that it is something that has prepared me to make the decision I’ve made. Hopefully I’m successful, and I feel that I will be, so I’m going to give it all I’ve got. I feel that my journey’s not over, I believe I have a purpose, and I believe this is inline with that. When you’re sitting behind that big desk as a judge, you’re given a huge amount of responsibility that should not be taken for granted, so you have to be prepared for that. You have to know that the decisions you’re going to make affects that person’s life forever. It is a huge responsibility, and I don’t take that lightly and I’m prepared to do that.
How did you receive insight into your career? Do you have a mentor?
After my mother passed I was blessed to meet different women along my journey. I lost my mother at a critical time, I had just turned twenty-three. I was a young lady but I had so much to learn about being a woman. God has a way of giving you what you need. One of my first supervisors was a woman and she taught me more about practicing law, to pay attention to details. That was one of my first mentors. My best friends have always been my mentors. I think a good girlfriend tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. They’re the person you can call when you’re going through, when you’re down and you need encouragement. Most of my girlfriends are actually lawyers that I met along my career but I also have girlfriends I met in college. One of the things that you’ll find is that every one of your friends is different and they all bring to the table different gifts and ideas that you can benefit from. I lean on them, I’m able to call them for advice, they’re there when I need them.
What has been the most challenging moment of your career?
Losing my mother in law school was very challenging for me and making the decision to go forward. It was really hard to focus because my sister had just had my niece, and I was helping with her, so it was just very challenging, but I got through it. I think the next challenging moment was deciding to start the campaign to be a judge while almost at the same time losing my father. I’m sure he’s with me in spirit. The things he’s taught me, I carry that legacy. Losing parents at key times in my life have definitely presented challenges. What I’ve learned from when I lost my mother is that you can make it. It won’t break you, you just have to give it time and keep going. Allow yourself to grieve but you can get through it and and that’s what they would want me to do.
What do you look forward to everyday?
I look forward to what I’m going to learn and what the day’s going to bring. To be honest with you, sometimes those lessons don’t come easy, but I look forward to what’s going to be the challenge of the day. If there was a problem a client is facing at work, I look forward to solving that problem. I look forward to what’s going to break my routine that’s new. It’s not always going to be big and earth shattering, it can be small, like something a co-worker says, for example. Overall, I just look forward to starting a new day, a new day to start over.
What advice do you have for your undergrad self?
I can be a worrier and over the years I have discovered that it really doesn’t do any good, so I would tell my undergrad self to be optimistic. Think positive! Negative thinking only brings more negative results. I would also say be prepared and account for any possible outcomes and prepare for that. Map it out in your mind that you’re prepared and that you will be successful. I would tell my law school self the same thing. I tend to be more of a realist, so there’s always going to be that “what if” in me, but don’t let it rule the day. When things don’t work out, don’t stress. What’s for you is for you.
How do you escape on the weekends?
One of my greatest passions and escapes is hand-crafting cards and other projects. I was introduced to papercrafting about three and a half years ago. Because of my campaign efforts, I don’t have the time anymore. I actually have a blog: Celestial Creations I haven’t posted in quite a while, but you can check out some projects that I’ve done. Hand-crafting cards and other projects revealed my “creative side.” On the weekends I like to take myself out to eat. I think it’s important to treat yourself.
I mentioned earlier that I’m a bit of a loner so I do a lot of things by myself. As a single person you have a choice to make. You can either see life pass you by because you may not have someone to go with you on trips or out to eat or you can enjoy life. I choose to enjoy life. I travel, go out to eat, go out to movies by myself. I enjoy company, but if I don’t have it, I’m fine. The first time I went overseas I’ve traveled to London, Paris and Rome because I decided I wanted to see other places. I went with a tour group and ended up meeting another lady who was traveling by herself and ended up hanging out the entire trip, so I wasn’t alone. Had I decided not to do it, I would’ve missed out on probably the best trip I’ve experienced.
How would you describe your office culture? Happy hours, game nights?
I love the people that I work with. I work with very dedicated and nice people. A lot of us have worked with each other for so long it’s like a family. I enjoy coming to work everyday. I’ve forged some great friendships there. I like the people I work with and I think they like me. Everyone takes their jobs seriously and loves what they do, you can tell by their work ethic. I think I’m very lucky in that respect. It’s a very welcoming culture that I enjoy.
Coffee or Tea?
Coffee, I can’t even remember how long I’ve been partaking. I only partake in the morning.
Favorite nail color?
Neutrals, reds, and pinks. Nothing too outlandish.
#TeamNatural or #TeamRelaxed?
Natural! For five years now.
Best advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I’ve ever received was from my mother: “Kill them with kindness.” What she means by that is there are going to be haters and people who try to do you harm and don’t want to see you succeed, you can never stoop to their level. Because while you’re busy stooping to their level you can’t reach the heights you’re meant to reach. You have to stay above.
If you could have lunch with any woman, alive or dead, who would it be?
Maya Angelou. I think she has so much wisdom, and knows how to have fun. I think we would have a pleasant conversation. I would ask her things to seek wisdom.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Watching Scandal during Thursday night, Shondaland!
Favorite Quote (or lyric)?
“When people show you who they really are, believe them.” – Maya Angelou. This quote has saved me a lot of time.
Thanks for helping us inspire and empower!