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July 7th, 2009
10:28 AM ET

Yes, "this is it"

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/SHOWBIZ/Music/07/07/michael.jackson.wrap/art.jackson.signwall.cnn.jpg caption="A fan signs a poster covered in messages outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Monday."]

Samantha Hillstrom
CNN Production Assistant

Michael Jackson died on my birthday. It was 4 p.m. on a normal Thursday. Happy Birthday text messages, flower deliveries, gifts from co-workers and the promise I would get out of work a few hours early to have a birthday dinner with friends was making the day go by quite nicely. Then we got word that Michael Jackson’s trip to the hospital turned out to be worse than we’d feared. I canceled my birthday dinner.

When I finally left work that night to start celebrating, the streets were filled with Jackson’s music. There was something profoundly powerful about seeing a group of strangers cheer in respect, recognition and appreciation for songs we’ve heard most of our lives.

That following weekend at the New York City Pride Parade, nearly every float that passed by played “Billie Jean” or “Bad” or “Beat It.” And every time, like clockwork, the crowd would scream in that same excitement…even if they had heard those songs just a few minutes earlier.

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Filed under: Michael Jackson • Samantha Hillstrom
April 3rd, 2009
09:57 AM ET

Student aid needs a course correction

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/02/art.vert.hillstrom.jpg caption="Samantha Hillstrom graduated from college in May 2007." width=292 height=320]

Samantha Hillstrom
CNN Production Assistant

Last week, I wrote a blog about an issue facing many college graduates: debt from student loans. Since the post went up, the outpouring of response – more than 2,000 comments posted on this blog - has been staggering. It’s quite clear this is a discussion we need to be having in America today. Whether you support me or completely disagree with what I’m saying and the choices I’ve made, I think one thing we can agree on is that America’s student loan system is severely flawed.

Let me make something very clear. In no way am I looking for a bailout. I completely accept the amount of student debt I gave myself by attending a private college in New York City. It was my choice and one that I made understanding I would be leaving with debt to pay off.  I do not expect to be bailed out, but what I do expect is to have the same conditions on my loan agreements and repayment plan as homeowners in America.

Right now, you can purchase a house at a fixed rate of 5% with a 30-year repayment. Yet, I have student loans that have variable interest rates and only 12 years to pay them off. That’s not right. How is it that the failing auto industry gets a bailout and I can’t even consolidate my loans to get a lower monthly payment? How is it that the banks get a bailout and student loans holders can’t even get forgiveness when they go into a low paying job or when they serve their communities? We didn’t all strive to be doctors, lawyers or investment bankers earning high wages.

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Filed under: Education • Samantha Hillstrom
March 30th, 2009
11:45 AM ET

Student Loan Nightmare: Help Wanted

Program Note: Tune in tonight to hear Randi Kaye talk to Samantha Hillstrom on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/03/27/art.sam.jpg caption="CNN Production Assistant, Samantha Hillstrom, at her graduation in May 2007."]
Samantha Hillstrom
CNN Production Assistant

I’m about to talk about two little words that make most people cringe. The mere mention of these words usually incites the same reaction in everyone: a) fear b) denial c) a throbbing headache and d) the desire to run away screaming and crying and begging to go to a “happy place.” Yes, I am talking about STUDENT LOANS. If you don’t have one, you know someone who does and you sympathize with them. In the midst of the credit crisis, home foreclosures and bailout turmoil, the amount of debt that graduates are facing is overwhelming.

I am 23-years-old, two years out of college and I am sitting on $115,000 of student debt. And based on my lender's loan terms, I only have roughly 12 years to pay it off. How much does that make my monthly payment, you ask? A whopping $1,200 a month. And let’s just say my lifelong dream career in television doesn’t lend itself to that. The only option my bank is giving me is to go on “graduated repayment plan.” That means that for four years I will only be paying off the interest every month. How much is that? Well, $115,000 with interest rates between 4-8%... that’s about $600 a month and that doesn’t even touch the principal amount. People don’t pay off houses in 12 years and I am expected to pay off this student loan in an entry level position?

Some might say, “Sam, you shouldn’t have gone to a private school in New York City if you wouldn’t be able to pay it off.” Well, I made a lot of mistakes when signing up for my loans, but I was uneducated on the process and on the repayment and now I’m stuck. I share the same anxiety as the families struggling to pay their mortgages. How was I ever to expect the financial crisis that was going to happen and where can I get some help?

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Filed under: Economy • Education • Samantha Hillstrom