Message from the Chair

By Mellania E. Safarian
Clark Hill PLC

Hello New Lawyer Division:

As a first generation American, college student, and law student, I have spent much of my life defying the odds. Statistically speaking, I am what some might call a statistical outlier or an anomaly. My parents were refugees who fled Iran during the revolution. After spending years in refugee camps across Europe, they were finally granted asylum in the United States. My mother was a homemaker and my father was a blue collar worker. As a result of my socioeconomic background, I was unlikely to go to college and even less likely to become an attorney. Despite these odds, I did just that – I became the first in my family to graduate from both college and law school and the first in my family to become an attorney.

For some, college, and even in some cases law school, is essentially a birth right – a path engraved for them at a young age with ample resources and know how to get them to their destination. For others, like me, it is a mysterious and almost impossible road with never ending twists and turns. First generation students are disadvantaged across a myriad of variables in considering, applying for, and graduating from institutions of higher learning. For example, first generation students are more likely to drop out of college, are less likely to graduate on time, and often carry a disproportionate share of the debt load. Disadvantages accrue to students of the working class, those from low income backgrounds, students aging out of the foster care system, and students who were once homeless.

Approximately 11% of low income, first generation students will successfully navigate these formidable barriers and graduate with a college degree. Even less will continue on to seek and obtain a law school degree. Of those who do, there are still additional, significant obstacles to overcome – both within and outside of the classroom. To overcome these obstacles, first generation students often need to possess a certain brand of perseverance and resilience. As a result, first generation students may be more likely to withstand external forces, develop personal responsibility, and master the basic lessons of “paying one’s dues.” They are able to pull from reservoirs of experience, of necessity, and of structural challenges, having strengthened their abilities to persevere in the face of adversity.

The majority of those reading this message are likely not first generation college students, law students, or attorneys but my purpose in sharing my story is twofold: (1) to continue to shed light on the unique challenges faced by first generation students; and (2) to encourage first generation law students to continue to pursue their goals. To my fellow first generation attorneys and law students, continue to persevere and know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel that is worth all your efforts and sacrifices. And if you are ever looking for a mentor, look no further, I am here for you. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me and let me know how I can be of service.

Best,

Mellania Safarian

Chair of the New Lawyer Division


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