“I was raised with the idea that ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’ is just the beginning. There’s only one way and it’s up!” says Christine Khan Barrett ’77 with a laugh. Growing up in a family of three with a hard-working single mother as the sole earner, Barrett learned a strong work ethic. Her mother made her high expectations clear—and earning a BC degree was the first step toward their fulfillment.
As a longtime donor, Barrett felt it was important to support BC and other organizations that have helped her become who she is today. “It was just natural. I’ve donated for many years. Why wouldn’t I continue to donate?” During a recent update of her estate plan, she made the decision to include Boston College in her will, continuing donations that began while she was paying student loans.
A JESUIT MORAL COMPASS
Barrett credits BC with both the analytic curiosity that led her into a career in urban planning and her lifelong commitment to social justice. “My Jesuit education fed my intellectual thirst,” says the sociology and urban affairs major. The culture of social activism she found at BC reinforced her family’s feminist values, and the African-American and Hispanic caucuses that were forming at the time inspired reflection on her role as a biracial woman in a time of racial awakening and turmoil.
“As people of color, we were acutely aware of the responsibility we bore as children of families that had invested heavily in our futures and expected a great deal from us,” recalls Barrett.
“The message of BC was figuring out your moral compass. For me, that message was ‘Put your hand to the till: stop talking, start doing, and make a difference.’”
“HALCYON” YEARS AT THE HEIGHTS
Her years at BC were an exciting, fulfilling time in her life, and an exhausting one. To cover tuition, she worked in a restaurant. To save money, she commuted, first from Watertown and later from Maynard, recalling, “I drove a big old 1966 Chevy Malibu boat. I could’ve lived in that!”
But she was determined that the demands of academia and employment wouldn’t keep her from experiencing all BC had to offer. From marching with a glockenspiel in the “Screaming Eagles” Marching Band, to playing co-ed basketball, to tutoring Upward Bound high school students, to being a teacher’s assistant in statistical methods, Barrett was active at BC. “Those were truly halcyon years,” she remembers.
She and her mother attended college simultaneously, the first in their family to do so. The week Barrett graduated magna cum laude from Boston College, her mother graduated summa cum laude from Boston University.
Barrett went on to earn an MS in public management and policy, writing her thesis on welfare and benefit program reforms long before those topics were commonly discussed. The model she developed to predict the incentive to work after receiving benefits became part of welfare reform in Pennsylvania.
After graduate school, she became a system analyst consultant for the federal government, leading to management in a Nevada water utility. A frequent volunteer while raising her family, she obtained her teaching license in retirement. Barrett continues to work with those trying to stay on track by giving high school equivalency exams to adult education students.
Today, she remembers what it was like not to have money for college and is grateful that BC offered her a financial aid package. It was still difficult to make ends meet, and Barrett almost dropped out during her junior year when the precarious balance of loans and scholarships tipped the wrong way, and again during graduate school after the accidental death of her brother. “I don’t know how we made it work,” she says now. “Our family credo is making the best of what little we have.”
She designated her estate gift to help minority and economically disadvantaged students attend BC. It was also important to Barrett that her three adult children understand the significant value she places on philanthropy—a key motivation to include BC and other charities in her estate plans. “It started with small regular donations and evolved into this bequest.”
“I always think that reaching out to people who need a little help is so important, it’s what we have to do. I really believe this as a Christian, but also just as a person.”