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Inspiration from those not like me

Ashley Baker
Ashley Baker went from driving an 18-wheeler to a leadership position in the ABA Law Student Division.

If you look around your classroom, you’ll see a tapestry of unique people, all with diverse backgrounds and interesting stories to tell.

Nontraditional, in the loosest sense, is essentially any student who didn’t go K-J.D.; that is, who didn’t take a break from kindergarten to undergrad to law school. I personally fall into a number of nontraditional buckets: I’m an older student, I’m a wife and mother, and I’m on my second career. These things make my law school journey a bit different from others’.

Below are stories of three nontraditional students who I’ve met during my law school career. I hope their journeys are as inspiring for you as they are to me.

Service in Afghanistan

Kate Ricci went to college directly out of high school but wanted to make a difference, so she enlisted in the Navy. There, she was a hospital corpsman, where she worked in the labor and delivery, postpartum, and NICU department. While in the country, she finished her bachelor’s degree online.

From there, she took her LSAT and was ready to go to law school—but was deployed.

Ricci deployed to the NATO Role III Multinational Medical Unit in Kandahar, where she encountered a boy with a gunshot wound to his shoulder. It was then she realized that “higher calling” to help people that had prompted her to want to attend law school in the first place—so she began applying again.

While she was in Afghanistan, Ricci didn’t just receive one acceptance call—she got accepted to every law school to which she applied. In 2017, she completed her service to the Navy and entered law school. She now heads up the Student Veterans Law Symposium and is vice president of the Trial Team at The Florida State University College of Law.

Trucker fueled by tragedy

Ashley Baker drove an 18-wheeler truck for nine years before law school. She didn’t plan to leave her career. That is, until she began training new drivers and realized that laws are written in a way that can sometimes be difficult for laypersons to comprehend.

Even then, it wasn’t until hearing about the Sandy Hook elementary school tragedy that Baker’s desire to do something more meaningful changed her plans, and she chose law school.

Not content with the bare minimum, Baker is involved in her law school as well as the ABA. She is the senior editor of the Southern University Law Center’s Journal of Race, Gender, and Poverty, the editor-in-chief of the Public Defender newspaper, serves on multiple ABA committees, and hosts the ABA Law Student Division Podcast.

The language of service

Johnnie Nguyen, the current chair of the ABA Law Student Division, is a child of political refugees who fled to the United States after the Vietnam War. He was the first in his family to graduate high school and college.

Nguyen grew up translating, writing letters, making phone calls, and navigating the adult world for his parents.

As he matured, he realized that law is really a language unto itself and that those who speak it get to decide such things as who can vote, marry, work, protest, cross borders—and who doesn’t. Nguyen went to law school to become a translator in the language of law. Now at University of Colorado Law School, Nguyen plans to represent those who are marginalized, discriminated against, and exploited and empower them to find their own voice.

Keep reading this issue for more unique—and moving—stories.

Dayna Maeder Dayna Maeder is a civil litigation attorney at McConnaughhay, Coonrod, Pope, Weaver, & Stern, P.A., working with state agencies and national insurance corporations. Dayna is a YLD associate editor who enjoys her volunteer work as a litigation consultant and trial advocate trainer for the Leon County Teen Court program.