Category Archives: Student News, Achievements, Awards

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Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter explains to fellow WMU-Cooley graduates that your career is often like “tacking”

kevin_cotterState Representative Kevin Cotter earned his Juris Doctor from Western Michigan University Cooley Law School in 2006 and was the keynote speaker for WMU-Cooley’s graduating class this May. He was first elected in November 2010 to serve the citizens of the 99th House district in Isabella County, Michigan, as well as 10 townships in Midland County. Representative Cotter serves as Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, the Majority Vice Chair of the Elections and Ethics Committee, and is a member of the Insurance, Michigan Competitiveness, and Tax Policy committees. Below are his words of wisdom to his fellow graduates during the May 22, 2016 commencement, along with his Michigan’s Big Show radio interview.

Good afternoon graduates, administrators, faculty, family and friends. It is an honor to be here with you today to celebrate the achievements of this graduating class.  I am especially honored, because it was 10 years ago this month that I sat in your seats and received my law degree from this fine institution.  I am thankful to this institution for giving me a unique education that set me up for success for a lifetime.

Congratulations to those of you who are crossing the finish line today and moving on to the next phase of your professional lives.

For some of you, that means beginning your careers. For others, it means finishing a goal and advancing careers that already exist.

You should all be proud of the incredible effort that you have put in to get here today. Like all important life milestones, the time you spent here will change your life.  It will start you on a new path, and it will open you up to new people and new ideas.  You now have the tools you need to accomplish great things.

The classes and instructors at Cooley have given you skills you can’t get elsewhere and an opportunity to prepare yourselves for a lifetime of making a difference.

As I think back to my special day 10 years ago, many of the memories of that day have faded. But I can remember one aspect as clearly as if it were yesterday.  I can remember sitting in my seat almost in tears thinking about my family and friends that joined me that day.  I was amazed by the sacrifices that they had made and all of the love and support that they gave me throughout the journey.  I have no doubt that all of you are feeling the same way today.  Graduates, will you please rise and with a round of applause, make sure that those that have joined you today know how thankful you are for all that they have given to you.

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Graduates, today is a milestone, and it is a significant one. It should be celebrated and cherished, but remember that it is a milestone and not a final destination.  Now the question becomes, what will you do with the degree that you receive today.  It will be proudly displayed on your home or office wall for the rest of your life, but don’t look at it as a piece of paper in an expensive frame, look at it as tool.  A tool to do great things in this world to advance your life and to have a positive impact on the lives of others.

I would like to share with you some advice that I received long ago from a mentor. He was talking to me about life and I believe trying to open up my mind to the many options that existed that I may not have seen at the time.  He asked me if I had ever sailed and if I knew what tacking was?  I answered “no” to both questions.  He explained that when you are sailing, the wind often is not blowing in exactly the direction that you need it to, to get to where you would like to go.  Sometimes you have to go this way and then that way to make incremental progress toward your ultimate destination. This is tacking.  This conversation stuck with me and my professional career has certainly been, and I expect will continue to be, one of tacking.

Tacking or coming about is a sailing maneuver by which a sailing vessel (which is sailing approximately into the wind) turns its bow into the wind through the 'no-go zone' so that the direction from which the wind blows changes from one side to the other. [Wikipedia]

Tacking or coming about is a sailing maneuver by which a sailing vessel (which is sailing approximately into the wind) turns its bow into the wind through the ‘no-go zone’ so that the direction from which the wind blows changes from one side to the other. [Wikipedia]

I expect that many of you can or will one day be able to relate to this.  Some of you came to law school directly from undergraduate school, while others like myself took a less traditional path.

After receiving my undergraduate degree, I entered the workforce while taking graduate school classes in the evenings. Laws school was not even on my radar at that time.  However after graduating with a master’s degree and working for a couple more years, I decided to pursue a different track and attend law school.  After receiving my law degree, and passing the bar exam in July, I returned to my hometown of Mt. Pleasant and opened a private practice.  I later merged my practice with another attorney and things were going very well.  However, I was about to make another course change.

Up until that point in my life, the only elected office that I had held was that of treasurer for my freshmen class in high school. I choose to forgo re-election and was at peace with permanently ending my political career.  However in 2009, Michigan was in a very dark place and I saw the effects on many in my community and my family firsthand.

I saw family and friends forced to leave the state looking for work. They had to leave their loved ones and their lives behind just to make ends meet.

I knew someone had to step up and make a difference, and so I chose to do it myself.

It was a risk, and it is scary to jump into the unknown in such a public and potentially embarrassing way.

What’s more, being a few years into practice it was not an ideal time to give up everything and essentially start over. But I felt that it was the right thing to do.

Now, six years later I couldn’t be happier with the way things have turned out. I even had the honor of being elected by my peers to serve as the Speaker of the House.  This has allowed me to do even more and have an even bigger impact on the fortunes of this state.

I had to learn new skills to excel in this new role. But more than that, I had to relearn how to use and apply the skills I already had.

The education I received at Cooley prepared me for the world, not just for my legal practice. I only had to realize that and apply the skills in a new way. Don’t ever be afraid to tack.

My experience is not unique in the modern economy. All over the country, people are having the same realization. The days of 40 years at the same company and a gold watch are largely over in this country. That’s been hard for a lot of people to accept, but it also presents opportunities. Opportunities for the people who can adapt their skills and use their talents in new ways.

Many of you here today have already experienced mid-career changes, and that’s what brought you here. Many of you haven’t had the chance to experience it yet, but you know you may and that’s why you’re here, working on skills you can use anywhere, for a lifetime.

Now that I am in the legislature, I see how all the training I’ve received really did prepare me for this. I just didn’t know it at the time.

Many assume that most politicians are lawyers, but this is not the case. Having a law degree is very useful in drafting legislation and having an appreciation for how important every word or comma in a statute can be, but you would probably be surprised to learn that less than 10 percent of my colleagues are attorneys. They are doctors and dairy farmers. They are realtors and teachers.

They too took skills from every possible background and found a way to translate them to have an impact on the world. I’m certain the apple farmer and store clerk never started their careers planning to end up in the state legislature, and neither did I. But we all learned valuable skills and found new ways to use them to make a difference.

Even though I didn’t know what I would end up making of it, I couldn’t be happier with my education and every experience I had here at Cooley. The opportunities I had to grow and challenge myself set the stage for everything that has come after. I hope that sharing a bit of my story will is some way be helpful to you as you move forward in your exciting journey.

Speaker of House Kevin Cotter and WMU-Cooley President Don LeDuc

Speaker of House Kevin Cotter and WMU-Cooley President Don LeDuc

I can’t wait to see what this group of graduates goes on to accomplish. I look forward to reading about it and hearing the stories that you will all have to tell.

But don’t be scared if your circumstances change and all of a sudden you find yourself needing to tack. Believe in yourself and your abilities and know that you would not have made it this far if you didn’t have what it takes to overcome any challenge.

Be proud of your accomplishments, but be prouder of the skills you’ve learned that will allow you to succeed over and over again.

Thank you again for this opportunity and congratulations to our graduates!

Read Kevin Cotter’s story in WMU-Cooley’s alumni publication, the Benchmark, in the upcoming Summer 2015 issue.

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Honors Convocation is More Than Honoring Smart Law Students

The one celebration, outside of Graduation Day, that honors outstanding achievement and service by law students is during the law school’s Honors Convocation. Honorees from each of the four campuses, every term, join with family and friends to celebrate a job well done!

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Along with recognizing students making the Dean’s List and Honor Roll, the law school also honors the top student in each class with a Certificate of Merit.

The Great Deeds Award is also presented each term to a student who has demonstrated great service, through a long-term commitment or through a single act.

Honors Convocation would not be complete without presenting chosen students with the coveted Leadership Achievement Award. This is an honor that acknowledges those students who have consistently, comprehensively, and effectively provided leadership in a variety of capacities. This prestigious award is intended to be the culmination of a student’s participation in leadership activities while at Cooley Law School.

Once a year, the WMU-Cooley Alumni Association presents the Distinguished Student Awards to third-year law students who have demonstrated outstanding academic, service and student involvement while at WMU-Cooley. They are nominated by their peers and faculty, and are interviewed and selected by the Executive Committee of the Alumni Association. All recipients receive an elegant mahogany diploma frame with custom matting and Cooley logo imprint.

In addition to recognizing law students for high academic achievement at this year’s Honors Convocation, Elizabeth Devolder also received a special award for being named a Law Student of the Year by The National Jurist Magazine. Devolder is a non-traditional third-year student at WMU-Cooley Law School’s Tampa Bay campus. She is one of 25 law students who were honored by the publication.

Devolder received the law school’s Highest Grade Award in 10 classes and serves as the editor-in-chief forWMU-Cooley Law Review. She holds a national championship title from the American Bar Association’s 2015 Law Student Division Client Counseling Competition in which she competed with her husband against 108 teams. She is a WMU-Cooley teaching assistant as well as a mentor for students who are balancing work, school, and family.

“Elizabeth has proven herself as a smart, hardworking, dedicated and determined leader and learner,” said Jeffery Martlew, WMU-Cooley Law School associate dean.

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BLSA’s Black Tie Ball Celebration Comes With Rich History and Symbolism

The WMU-Cooley Law School Black Law Student Association of Tampa Bay really pulled out all the stops when they put on this year’s Black Law Student Association (BLSA) Black Tie Ball.  The extravagant gala was the culmination of a series of three events that students put on last month to honor Black History Month.

Black Tie Co-Chair Devan Hardeway, a second-year law student from Columbus, Georgia, shared the rich history of the Black Tie event and how it evolved over the years. “Beginning in 1968, Algernon Johnson (“AJ”) Cooper, the former mayor of Prichard, Alabama, founded the first Black American Law Students Association at New York University Law School. Then in 1983, BALSA changed its name. The word “American” was deleted to encompass all blacks, including those not of American nationality.  Even later, the word “National” was added to reflect the organization’s national expansion, which now includes representation in the law schools of 48 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.”

The National Black Law Students Association (NBLSA), is comprised of chapters or affiliates in six different countries, including The Bahamas, Nigeria, and South Africa, and is organized into six regions (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southern, Midwest, Rocky Mountain and Western Region) with over 200 chapters.

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Co-Chair Ashley Hart, a second-year student from Plant City, Florida, explained how WMU-Cooley’s Tampa Bay BLSA started. “The Tampa Bay Chapter of BLSA was charted in June 2013 as an affiliate of the National Black Law Students Association. The Black Tie Ball is an annual event of BLSA affiliates throughout the United States. The National Black Law Students Conference celebrates the community work and accomplishments of culturally diverse law students.”

Hart reminded the law students and guests that everyone was “making a positive mark on the Tampa Bay community, as well as on the Cooley Tampa Bay campus, even while undertaking the strenuous work of law school.

BLSA has been involved in many important events. In the fall, BLSA members participated in an event at Middleton High School called “Responding to a Law Enforcement Encounter,” where local judges and law enforcement spent an evening speaking to high school students about the correct way to respond to law enforcement officers in various situations. BLSA also participated in collecting and delivering donated items to children living at Everyday Blessings, a nonprofit foster care facility in Thonotosassa. They also organized “Study with BLSA,” where professors presented midterm reviews for first-term students. Most recently, over 80 law students attended a professionalism event entitled “A Guide to Avoiding Issues with The Board of Bar Examiners and the Florida Bar: The Top 5 Pitfalls of Both Law Students and Lawyers.”

WMU-Cooley Professor and BLSA faculty adviser Renalia DuBose introduced keynote speaker Marie Campbell, Esq., VP of Compliance and Assistant General Counsel GTE Financial. She spoke about the importance of financial integrity and how living out of honesty and strong moral principles will guide your financial success into the future.

BLSA President Jazmin Shorter, a second-year WMU-Cooley Tampa Bay law student, thanked everyone for their inspiring words, then got the party started with a quote from Oprah Winfrey, “Every day brings a chance for you to draw in a breath, kick off your shoes, and dance.”

“So BLSA members and guests,” said Shorter, “you don’t have to kick off your shoes, but draw in a breath and join us on the dance floor! Let’s dance!”

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Curing the Ills of the Criminal Justice System: What Can We Do to Support Wrongfully Convicted Men and Women?

“On March 13, 2016 Darryl Hunt died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Hunt was suffering from Stage 4 cancer. But cancer was just one of many struggles that Hunt faced in his life. In 1984, he was wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of a Winston-Salem copy editor. Hunt always maintained his innocence and was exonerated in 2004 after DNA testing excluded him from the rape kit and another man, William E. Brown, confessed to the crime. Hunt spent almost 20 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.” – Marla Mitchell-Cichon, WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Director 

Take a minute to consider all you might lose over a 20-year time span. Then consider how you would begin to put your life back together. Where would you live? How would you support yourself? How would you explain where you have been when you apply for a job? How would your medical and psychological needs be met?

These are just a few of the challenges that those who have been wrongfully convicted face.

Speakers Valerie Newman, Senator Steve Bieda, Dr. Zieva Dauber Konvisser, Kenneth Wyniemko, and Laura Caldwell (on screen)

Speakers Valerie Newman, Senator Steve Bieda, Dr. Zieva Dauber Konvisser, Kenneth Wyniemko, and Laura Caldwell (on screen)

On March 18, the WMU-Cooley Journal of Practical and Legal Scholarship teamed up with the school’s Innocence Project to present its symposium, “Is a Wrongful Conviction a Life Sentence?” A panel of distinguished experts presented both the problems and the challenges to life after exoneration.

As Laura Caldwell, director of Life After Innocence, pointed out, “As we were talking to various people we realized there’s so much need – it’s such a surreal journey and such a battle to get yourself out, but then you come back into a world where you don’t know how to do anything…” Being imprisoned for years means you don’t have a valid driver’s license, you don’t know how to use the latest technology. The average sentence served on a wrongful conviction is more than 14 years, but some have spent over 30 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.

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State Sen. Steve Bieda and WMU-Cooley Innocence Project client Kenneth Wyniemko have been working tirelessly to pass legislation that will compensate Michigan citizens who are wrongfully imprisoned. Senate Bill 291 would provide $50,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment and needed services that parolees already receive from the state. But, as we learned from the panelists, no amount of money can compensate the loss experienced by men and women wrongfully convicted in our criminal justice system. “I realize and I’ve always realized that no amount of compensation can truly cover what they’ve been through,” said Bieda. Panelist Dr. Zieva Konvisser, who has focused her research on women exonerees, read heart-wrenching accounts of women who explain how you never really get your life back.

Darryl Hunt is one more tragic story where a man never really did get his life back. Darryl Hunt was the founder of The Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice and The Darryl Hunt Freedom Fights. The documentary, The Trials of Darryl Hunt chronicles the story of his wrongful conviction.

Professor Marla Mitchell-Cichon

Professor Marla Mitchell-Cichon

Blog author, Marla Mitchell-Cichon, is the director of WMU-Cooley Law School’s Innocence Project.  Professor Mitchell-Cichon has extensive practice experience in criminal and poverty law. Her litigation experience includes practicing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, the Ohio Supreme Court, and trial courts in both Ohio and Michigan. She joined WMU-Cooley Law School in July 1995 and also teaches in the Sixty Plus, Inc., Elderlaw Clinic and Professional Responsibility.

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Law student Bailey Vos: Accelerated Program a perfect fit for someone with a “can-do” attitude

Bailey Vos is a 24-year-old student at the Grand Rapids WMU-Cooley Law School campus. She was born and raised in Grand Rapids and didn’t leave the west Michigan area until she headed east to attend the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) where she earned her bachelor’s degree. She is an honors scholar on track to finish law school in two years by following WMU-Cooley’s Accelerated Program.

WMU-Cooley Law School student Bailey Vos

WMU-Cooley Law School student Bailey Vos

Bailey started her higher education track at the University of Michigan and graduated in 2013 with her bachelor’s degree in Performance Art Management. “I was in the Theater School and loved every second of it.” Her first job out of college was as a producer for a children’s theater group for a  year, but she ultimately decided to return to Grand Rapids to be closer to family.

When she was first considering moving back to Grand Rapids, Bailey also thought about the next few steps. Going to law school had always been a dream, but she wanted to be sure. She started looking into law schools in Michigan because she knew she wanted to stay near home. She ultimately decided to attend WMU-Cooley Law School – for a number of reasons. Not only did WMU-Cooley have a campus in her hometown of Grand Rapids, the law school also awarded her an honors scholarship and gave her the ability to take its Accelerated Program, finishing law school in two years instead of three.

Bailey started in WMU-Cooley’s Accelerated Program in January 2015 and hasn’t looked back. “Once I see a goal, I do anything I need to in order to reach it,” Bailey said.

As of now, many of those goals have already been achieved. She’s been able to make the Dean’s List and Honor Roll several times during law school, and once she is finished with her required courses in August 2016, she plans to move to Austin, Texas to do her externship, and ultimately graduate in January of 2017, finishing her law school in exactly two years.

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She’s been successful at making time for everything that is important to her, despite her busy schedule. She believes that the relationships she’s formed throughout law school are ones that will last a lifetime. Because of this, she does not hesitate to put a night of studying aside to make time for her family and friends.

“Most people who hear about my schedule think I’m crazy,” laughed Bailey. Yet, if you sit down and talk to her, you are immediately inspired by her positive attitude and endless energy. She’s not afraid to push herself to find her limits. Bailey serves as the Student Bar Association president, managing editor for the WMU-Cooley Law School Law Review, an Enrollment and Student Services graduate assistant, teaching assistant for Constitutional Law, Student Ambassador, Kaplan Head Liaison, and a Grade Appeals Board member and magistrate. On her days off, Bailey works two part-time jobs outside of the school. She also records the WMU-Cooley open house radio ads when needed! She accomplishes all of that on top of a more-than-full class load, averaging 16-17 credit hours per term.
“I love being involved and making a difference,” explained Bailey. “If there is ever a point when my schedule isn’t insanely hectic, I somehow seem to find other things to do! That’s OK though.”
As Bailey would say “Anyone can accomplish anything, if you believe in yourself and if you believe you can.” We at WMU-Cooley believe you can, Bailey.  Keep making goals and helping others. You will accomplish great things.

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WMU-Cooley Team’s Talent and Efforts Paid Off in Patent Drafting Competition

For WMU-Cooley students Joyce Hill and Christopher DeLucenay, the Midwest Regional International Patent Drafting Competition, hosted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, began back in December 2015. Each team received an invention for which they were to prepare and submit a patent application, along with the related documents relative to the invention. They were then scored by a select panel of judges. Teams had to do an oral presentation explaining their applications before a panel of judges, including a presentation of their search strategies and claims drafted. The three months of work paid off! Team Hill and DeLucenay took second place in the competition — missing first place by a hair!

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“I was the last team member to join and was thrilled to have the opportunity,” said Joyce. “Professor Tschura was the driving force behind getting a team together and I have him to thank for that. He was also very instrumental during the competition. Professor Tschura was the only team coach that attended the competition. We were fortunate to have one so well versed in intellectual property law there to assist and to watch our WMU-Cooley team in action. He also introduced us to some of the law partners, examiners, and managing directors in the IP industry. What a fantastic networking opportunity that was! I currently work as an intellectual property intern and this competition  gave me a whole new perspective on intellectual property law — one I had never seen before. I learned that each practitioner, corporation, law firm and USPTO has their own unique way or spin on writing patents. My original plan was to take the patent bar this summer, but after participating in this competition I decided to compete again next year. I will wait to take the patent bar exam the following summer.”

Chris learned about the competition while attending a Michigan Intellectual Property American Inn of Court meeting with Professor Tschura. “It sounded like a good opportunity to gain some practical experience in patent drafting and also to meet professionals in the industry. But what I really enjoyed was tackling new problems; problems I had never faced before when searching and drafting an application. I truly enjoyed working with Joyce. We worked very hard, in a limited time frame, to put our submission together. The competition presentation was a unique and great experience. I got to visit the Detroit USPTO satellite office and meet examiners, judges, and practitioners who gave us some great advice for our future careers. It was a tremendous opportunity. I am thankful to Professor Tschura for all he did and Joyce for being such a great teammate. I was honored to represent WMU-Cooley respectably.”

Professor and Coach Gerald Tschura could not be more proud of the team and their second place finish in the competition.

“I was delighted with our very talented team of Joyce Hill and Christopher DeLucenay,” stated Tschura. “I found them both to be extremely self-motivated, beyond the fact that they worked so well as a team. Their written submission, as well as their oral presentations, were absolutely outstanding. Both law students exemplify exactly the high caliber and degree of competency needed in patent law. Our team’s talent and efforts paid off as their written submissions and oral presentations were absolutely outstanding. WMU-Cooley continues to educate and graduate highly talented patent attorneys, most of whom are now employed by  intellectual property focused law firms in the region and throughout the country including as examiners at the USPTO.”

Joyce also felt what she learned from her internship at Dickinson Wright clearly gave her an edge in the competition.  “I am so grateful for all the programs and staff at WMU-Cooley who have been instrumental in putting me on the right track for success, especially Alana Glass and Sheri Lesnick from our Career Services Offices who got me my Intellectual Property internship with Dickinson Wright.”

The competition was the first of its kind, according to Professor Tschura. “The USPTO plans for the competition to become an annual event, and expanding it to regional competitions to be held at each of the USPTO regional satellite offices in Detroit, Dallas, Denver and Palo Alto, as well Alexandria, Virginia.

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Military Feature Mark Patterson: The greatest honor a man can achieve is a life of service to others

WMU-Cooley, as a Military friendly and designated Yellow Ribbon School, talks to its military students, faculty and graduates about their journey from the military to law school and about their career goals. This month we feature WMU-Cooley law student Mark Patterson. Mark was a welder in the USMC 4th Assault Amphibious Battalion based in Tampa, Florida.

Military rank and title: E-3, Lance Corporal

Why did you decide to go to law school and why did you choose WMU-Cooley: I wanted to be an attorney since I was a young child. WMU-Cooley gave me the opportunity to go to law school on my schedule –with the option to obtain my Juris Doctor degree sooner, as a student in WMU-Cooley’s Accelerated Program. This schedule will allow me to finish in two years and one semester; all while continuing to work full-time. The location of WMU-Cooley’s Tampa Bay campus was a also a great benefit. I could stay close to both home and work, creating minimal disturbance to the time I want to spend with my children.

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Career Description: I was a welder (1316) in the USMC 4th Assault Amphibious Battalion based in Tampa, Florida – activated in 2003. Although I never deployed overseas, I served for seven years.

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Career goals: I would consider my career a success if I can be recognized as an advocate for people. I want to be the attorney people come to when an intricate case needs to be handled. I want my career focus to be in civil litigation, but would also like to offer my expertise in criminal litigation to a number of pro bono efforts I think are important. My career goals are simple: I want to provide the best representation, in every case, and for every client. In the end, I want to be proud of the work I did, as if my father was the client that I represented. This is what every client deserves.WMUCooleyTampa01072016-461

Tell us a little about you: In addition to the seven years I spent in the Corps, I spent eight years as a Deputy Sheriff in Polk County, Florida. I believe that we must live a life of service to others, and in that service, we will honor those who have done so before us. In life, everyone has a path to choose. I chose to lead by motivating, and working with an attitude of “we.” Titles have never meant much to me because I believe that when we succeed together, many are touched by the success. Teamwork works in life – across the board – whether it’s family, or friends, or school. I have had the honor of serving my classmates, family, and my fellow Marines. I hope that everyone with whom I have the opportunity to interact with will be Blessed and take that same opportunity to bless, motivate and inspire others.

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I have enjoyed and appreciated everything that I have been able to do while at WMU-Cooley Law School. I am certain that anyone who comes to our law school will build lifetime bonds, graduate with the knowledge and skills necessary to confidently open their own firm, and ultimately join our Cooley Family that spans the globe.

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