Four Years an Evening Student: A Story of Determination, Dedication and Discipline

Interview by Deja Cagle, 3L

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Very few things in life can prepare one for the rigors of law school.  Serving on the battlefields of Iraq in 2004-2005 and a second deployment to Kuwait in 2010-2011are defining events that Lieutenant Colonel Michael A. Boykin, 4LE, says helped him deal with the many challenges of law school.  

Mr. Boykin balanced  working full-time at UNC Chapel Hill as a Business Systems Analyst, serving in the US Army Reserves, being a husband, and pursuing a law degree as an evening student by treating each semester and each year as part of an overall “operation.”  Just as he had planned numerous military operations throughout his 29-year military career, he applied that same logic to law school. Mr. Boykin applies the following steps to most endeavors he is involved with: 1) determine the desired outcome, 2) develop steps to meet your goals, and 3) continually assess where you are.  He says, “Sometimes you might fall short of the objective, but having a plan and making adjustments along the way are important to meeting one’s goals.” Boykin's spirituality has been and continues to be a large part of his life and guiding force in all his endeavors and the support of his lovely wife, Sherri Jackson Boykin.

What made you want to attend NCCU School of Law?

When I attended North Carolina State University, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, with a concentration in Criminal Justice.  It was my intention to attend law school upon graduation, but as life would happen, I started working and before I knew it, several decades had passed, but the desire to attend law school never diminished.  I chose NCCU School of Law because of the evening program. I knew that I had to continue working, so the evening program was perfect for my schedule. It was very tough to get into the evening program. It has been an incredible four years and I am definitely glad I had the opportunity to attend NCCU.

What has been your most rewarding experience in law school?

I have absolutely enjoyed being involved in as many law school activities as possible, but being elected class representative all four years has been the most rewarding experience.  As a non-traditional law student, I was 43 years old when I started law school. I wanted to do more than just go to work, go to school, go home, and repeat that cycle for four years.  Therefore, I signed up to be class representative my first year. I figured that would ensure that I interacted with Student Bar Association leaders and law school administration. Helping connect my class members with things that were going on with the school and other organizations was very important and it was needed.  I became an advocate and voice for the Evening Class of 2018. I have enjoyed it and my classmates continued to support me in that capacity.

What advice would you give current and future law students?

See it through! Law school is tough and you really, really have to be committed and prepared for the unexpected challenges and difficulties of life AND law school.  Things happen that will require you to handle difficult situations, even when you have to study for the toughest exam of your semester. Preparation, determination, and commitment are the qualities students must have and continually improve upon in order to get through this enormous hurdle, known as law school.  Find a couple of classmates who keep you motivated and you will in turn become their motivation. Enjoy the grinding pace of law school, stay focused, and remember, if law school were easy, then anyone would be able to do it! It takes a special and dedicated person to graduate law school.

Four Years an Evening Student: A story of Determination, Dedication and Discipline

Four Years an Evening Student: A story of Determination, Dedication and Discipline

How have your military service and law school experiences intersected? 

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Prior to attending law school, I had been able to juggle my studies and the military as an undergraduate, as a graduate student, and as a full-time employee.  I knew law school would be super demanding, so I applied the same dedication in my previous educational pursuits to law school. While on weekend reserve duty, I always took my law books and assignments.  Whenever I had a chance to pull out the books, I always did so. I was also fortunate enough to have superiors that supported my personal and professional growth. I think the military has made me a better student and I can certainly see how law school has made me a better military leader.  Law school has increased my ability to analyze situations more quickly and get to core issues while excluding information that really does not pertain to the situation. I use that same skill set in my civilian profession as a Business Systems Analyst at UNC Chapel Hill. The critical thinking skills that I have acquired in law school have been immensely helpful in my professional and civilian life.

How will the military influence your law career going forward? 

As a veteran and current Army reservist that suffers from combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), I plan to use my military knowledge and legal education to help other veterans deal with veteran disability claims.  Unfortunately, there are thousands of veterans who are eligible for military disability benefits, but they lack the skill and ability to navigate the bureaucracy associated with the Veterans Administration. I plan to help as many veterans as I can with the disability process.

What is your plan after graduation? How you plan to use your degree? 

I have been giving this question a lot of thought now that graduation is near.  I am very fortunate to have quite a few options once I graduate and pass the North Carolina bar exam.  After my first year of law school, I decided that I wanted to pursue the Juris Doctor/Master’s in Library Science (MLS) joint degree.  I already had an MBA, so I wanted to diversify my educational background. I felt the library science degree would enhance my legal research skills and provide career options in case I wanted to become a law librarian.  I finished the library science courses for the joint degree in 18 months and earned a 4.0 GPA in the MLS. I could become a law librarian if the opportunity presents itself. I also have a background in human resources with approximately 20 years in corporate environments and within the North Carolina university system.   As I focus on my human resources career, I ultimately would like to become a Vice Chancellor for Human Resources at a college or university or a Vice President for Human Resources in the corporate world. Those positions are the senior positions that have the responsibility of shaping and enforcing fairness and equity in the workplace.  I think my law degree, various military assignments and experiences, and various HR positions are all factors that serve as a solid foundation for those positions. No matter how advanced our world becomes, people will always be essential to businesses, to universities, and every other aspect of life. We will always need leaders who can motivate people, protect their individual and collective interests, and accomplish the goals of the various businesses.  Those are all things that I have a vast amount of experience with and those are areas which I can use my law degree and have the most impact.

“I don’t know if you have the drive to make it here.”

By Rachel Cash

Further education was the expectation in my household. My mom recently earned a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, accomplished while working as a leader within a large automotive company.  My dad earned a bachelor’s degree in Finance and excelled in the insurance business. For me, it was not about if I was going to college, or even if I was going to continue my education after college. It was a given. The only question in my life was what will I do after college? If I didn’t get a degree in engineering, accounting, or journalism, what will be the next step in my education? P.S. I got an English degree with a focus in Old Literature, which we all know the modern usefulness of John Milton and Geoffrey Chaucer. Naturally, I was completely lost when I graduated. Not only lost but scared out of my mind concerning the job market. I took a year off after undergrad.  I had a college degree and was making $10 an hour working retail.

Long story short, I decided that I hated working retail and needed to move in a direction, any direction. My mind still pivoted and pulled in every direction, but the common thought was that I wanted to start businesses – and I need to figure out how.  This led me down a rabbit hole of Google searches on holding companies and how to establish one. To deviate from the story, as a law student, you probably have some irrational need to understand; understand the laws, understand policies, and understand legal structuring of life in general. Google couldn’t tell me specifically how to structure a holding company; in fact, it highlighted the need to get a lawyer to ensure you are doing it properly.  So the only rational solution set for an irrational need to understand was for me to go to law school.

Fast forward to 1L orientation, we had a luncheon with alumni. The incoming class of 2017 settled at the round tables in the Great Hall, nervous and intimidated after a day full of what to expect from law school. The table I was at was full of young women from all walks of life, many who were the first in their family to graduate from college and/or high school, had children, been directly affected by the legal system, and those highly dedicated to public interest. Now, I am sure everyone knows what it’s like to wait your turn to tell about yourself as everyone goes ahead of you, thinking about what you are going to say and trying to calm your nerves. I listened intently, amazed at the women I would eventually graduate with. Everyone at the table had finished and it was my turn to tell why I had chosen to come to law school. Now, as I have discussed earlier, my reasoning was simple at first, I wanted to know: how does one structure a holding company? But the concept had expanded and become complex.  With a legal degree I could use it as leverage in the business world, it would be a tool in my toolbox, give me credibility, expand my language, and expose me to different ways to approach situations. Standing there, I fumbled through, trying to explain why I was at North Carolina Central School of Law. Concluding in a rush, I sat down and the alumna began to give her feedback. She went around the table discussing how inspired she was by the stories she heard, individually addressing the adversity that was overcome or the honorable motivations of the other young women.  

When she got to me she literally said, “I don’t know if you have the drive to make it here.” As an incoming 1L, I may or may not have gone home and had a real cry. I half-heartedly combatted the statement by explaining that I had a English degree and a law degree would add merit that would be necessary in my future.  She rebutted back about the challenges of law school and how you need drive for the law to make it through. The conversation ended just as abruptly as it started, and small talk resumed at the table.

Looking back at this moment there are three lessons I want to discuss in regards to entering law school and where I am now. First, take this one throughout all your walks of life: we judge people by their actions and we judge ourselves by our intentions. This school is small and you will encounter a whole lot of foolery. Take this alumna for an example; as a 1L, all I could see were her actions. I can recall thinking and telling my support system how she singled me out in saying maybe I didn’t have the drive to make it. A year and a half later, I realized that my colleagues, the professor, the “judgmental” alumna, and anyone else I meet in life can view my actions, and I can view theirs.  But just like me, every person has a system of complex synapses controlling the intentions for their actions. The alumna may have been trying to push me to dig deeper to find my true passion [drive] for the law.  Or she might have been push me to the realization that I’m in law school for the wrong reasons – go home.   I don’t know and I will not try to justify her actions. I am just more cognizant that we judge people’s actions on actions alone and ourselves by the intention behind the actions. Others’ actions aren’t so black and white, revel in that grey. P.S. Discuss that grey area on exams.

Second, though I have a sense of this grey area, there is right and wrong. This basis may not be tied to the law or what’s right may oppose the law, but common sense is a virtue.  The alumna may have had some intention behind her words and she was entitled to say whatever she wanted; however, her delivery was wrong. Once you discern what is right and what is wrong, learn from it. That alumna’s actions have shaped how I will interact with incoming 1Ls who may be nervous and unsure as I once was.

Thirdly, I know now that no one can define or measure your drive. My first year of law school I did well, regardless of a so-called lack of “drive.”  I controlled my level of participation and learning and consequently understood more.

What moves every person at this law school is different, but that does not take away what’s moving them. Even if your drive was stitched together by an irrational need to understand, you belong here.  

Cash graduated from North Carolina Central School of Law in May 2017 and was sworn into the Michigan State Bar this past November.

"What Did You Want To Be When You Grow Up?"

By Chua Lo-Yang / Editor: Deja Cagle

Chua and her daughter.

Chua and her daughter.

I am Hmong (Hmoob).  I speak Hmong, but there is no country called Hmong. The Hmong people, an Asian minority ethnic group, reside all over the world. A great number of the Hmong population arrived in the United States after the Vietnam War in 1975, due to their involvement in aiding the United States. The highest concentration of the Hmong population in the United States is in the St. Paul, Minnesota metro area and the central valley of California.

I was born in Stockton, California, shortly after my family arrived in the United States. I was the first in my family to attend and graduate from college. I am also the first in my family and (quite large) extended family to attend law school. This is a written account of my conversation I had with my daughter; a simple question that became an unintended history lesson. It is my hope to share it again with her someday when she is a little wiser and share with generations to come.

Towards the end of my first year of law school, while cooking dinner together, my thirteen-year-old daughter asked me, “when you were my age, what did you want to be when you grow up?”

It seemed like a simple question, but I had to take a serious mental pause and carefully select my words. What appeared to be only seconds, felt like forever.

Actually, I was surprised by her question, as if she had asked me about the “birds and the bees.” My answer was not exactly pretty. I could not figure out why, in that moment, I had struggled with her question. I asked myself, “how do I tell her an answer that is not easily black and white?”

To my own surprise I began with… “well… I grew up in a different time, and my mother, your “tais” (which means maternal grandmother in Hmong), grew up during a place and time that did not allow her to attend school.”

As I explained to her, I could visualize the life my mother had at my daughter’s exact age.

Chua's mother.

Chua's mother.

My mother grew up in the mountains of Laos, a country landlocked between Thailand, China, Vietnam, and Cambodia. She was the oldest of eight and born to a simple Hmong family of farmers. Her family had high expectations that she would care for her siblings, be an obedient daughter, and take on adult duties and chores. She was groomed to be a proper daughter and future wife—she would know no other goals or expectations of her.

She exemplified the “strong wife” qualities, which were highly valued during that time and by her community. She woke up early every day, went straight to her chores without her parents’ prompting, never spoke back to the elders, and had a strong back to carry water from the river.

She was greatly admired in her village, as she was an excellent candidate to be someone’s wife. Then one morning, she set off early, like she did every day, to collect water from the river. Only, this time she did not return home.  

It was a common practice for the males of marrying-age to select their wives by taking women (mostly young girls) to their homes as their wives (basically kidnapping them). My mother remembered putting up a good fight, but the group of men were so much stronger. She did not know her exact date of birth, therefore she did not know her age at that time, but she marked her age by female developmental stages. She remembered that she had not yet started her period.  

I could see my daughter’s glassy face telling me to speed things up, as I was going to lose her interest soon. That is, if I had not already lost it.

I then shifted to explain that, although I was born and raised in California, I was born during a time that did not encourage young girls to pursue their dreams and goals. My mother knew that she wanted a different life for her children, but she did not know how to guide us, or plant dreams within us.  

Additionally, we were growing up in a completely different world then the world she knew.

I grew up in time, where the Hmong community practiced and allowed children as young as eleven to sixteen to marry. A Hmong girl at the age of nineteen was considered old. My best friend was only in the sixth grade when I attend her Hmong ceremonial wedding. Over the next few years, I would continue to count one by one as each of my girlfriends dropped out of school and got married.

“So…” I said to my daughter, “making it to high school was a pretty big deal. Thoughts of college seemed so distant, but I’m here now. It’s never too late, and I’m almost done with my first year of law school.” I paused deeply and wondered about her next words.

“I want to be a doctor when I grow up,” she replied.

This is a story that spans three generations. My mother, who still does not speak English, currently lives in California and is seventy-two years old (but that is what we call her “fake age,” since she does not know her actual birthday). I am thirty-nine years old and my oldest child—my daughter—is now fourteen years old.

It was supposed to be a simple question, but I realize now that it was a question of privilege. A privilege that did not exist with my mother, a privilege I did not know I could of had, and question that I am blessed to know that my daughter can ask easily like ask “what’s for dinner?”

And I also realized that her question was really about her and her way to share with me her hopes and dreams.   

Editor’s Reflection:

Like Chua, I too realize that in only a few generations our families’ lives can change over time. My family is no different. My first best friend and great grandmother lived here in North Carolina and who, like Chua and many others of her time, had a fake birth date. And much like Chua’s daughter, I too had a view on life and my future that looked totally different than my great grandmother’s when she was in her 20’s during the 1940s. What about you and your family? Who are you in this story? Are you the mother who realizes the many opportunities your child has before them? Or are you the person who realizes how many opportunities you have before yourself, like Chua? We have so many different stories; let’s talk about them and see how else we can relate though our stories.

NPR INTERVIEW WITH DEAN PHYLISS CRAIG-TAYLOR

Dean Phyliss Craig-Taylor after graduation from the University of Alabama in 1980. (Photo: NPR local affiliate WUNC. Courtesy Dean Phyliss Craig-Taylor)

Dean Phyliss Craig-Taylor after graduation from the University of Alabama in 1980. (Photo: NPR local affiliate WUNC. Courtesy Dean Phyliss Craig-Taylor)

NPR's Frank Statio, host of "The State of Things," interviewed NCCU School of Law dean Phyllis Craig-Taylor.

"Phyliss Craig-Taylor was part of the first wave of black students to integrate public schools in Alabama. She started attending an integrated school in third grade, and it was a challenging and formative experience. White children taunted her and threw projectiles at her, and she collected each item in a cigar box. These objects later served as evidence in a lawsuit to push for stronger integration of public schools."

"Craig-Taylor is now the dean of law at North Carolina Central University and advocates for accessible and high-quality education for students of color. Host Frank Stasio speaks with Phyliss Craig-Taylor about her life in education and law. Craig-Taylor also discusses being tapped by former President Barack Obama to be on an advisory board for historically black colleges and universities." NPR

Listen to the interview on NPR, HERE (http://www.tinyurl.com/ztfeld9)

 

 

The above material is in compliance with NPR's "Rights and Permissions."

 

DANIEL BROWN WANTS YOU TO KNOW ABOUT P.U.H.L

By Daniel Brown

Daniel Brown graduated in may 2016 from NCCU School of Law. He was the co-founder and president of P.U.H.L, an organization dedicated to connecting the Durham community and NCCU School of Law students. 

Last year P.U.H.L partnered with The Boys and Girls Club to provide NCCU Law students with opportunities to connect with the youth in the community. P.U.H.L members weekly met with local High School and Middle School students to discuss issues ranging from how to apply to college to interaction with the Police. 

P.U.H.L annually awards the Prof. David A Green P.U.H.L Community Scholarship. The scholarship is named after Professor David A. Green. Prof. Green also serves as the adviser for P.U.H.L. Last year's winners were Leoncia Gillespie and Alton Brown, local High School students. 

Darius Holloway will take over as president of P.U.H.L.  

For more information about P.U.H.L and to find out how to join, contact Darius Holloway. 

HOLD FAST TO YOUR DREAMS

Since age 12, I have always dreamed of becoming a lawyer. ”A lawyer? You’ll never be a lawyer – it’s not in your DNA,” my brother told me years ago.  His words were detrimental to me as a young child, but I heard them loud and clear.  From that day on, I wanted to show him that my passion for law and helping others were unstoppable.  Since reciting Dreams, by Langston Hughes, I knew the only way to achieve my dream of becoming a lawyer was

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