Law School

Summer Series: Your Experience is Your Strength

Our Summer Series winds down, and what an amazing summer tho! This series highlights different Latina students and law grads as they embark in their summer jobs and/or bar prep all across the country. This series provides a variety of work experiences, options for a healthy work-life balance, and general motivation through different guest contributors to help you to take charge of your summer and professional goals!  Today we also hear from Noelia, a rising 3L who is leaving her career as a teacher behind to commit, full-steam ahead, to becoming an attorney. She shares her summer experience, the lessons learned, and the expertise she brings to our profession as an educator and advocate for mental health. 

My name is Noelia Rivera-Calderón, and I am a rising 3L at Temple Law School. Before law school I was a middle school Social Studies teacher for three years, and when I started teaching I thought it would be my life’s career. As time went on, I realized that as much as I loved teaching and loved my students, I  couldn’t do all I wanted to do for them from within the classroom alone.

My last year teaching I studied for the LSAT on the bus ride home from work every evening, 15-20 minutes practicing logic games before I got home and collapsed from exhaustion. It paid off when a scholarship from Temple gave me the chance to try to work for education justice on a larger scale.  I told myself when I started school that I would make the absolute most of the opportunity: I would study my hardest, and go for the jobs I really wanted even if I was scared of rejection. Three years of teaching had luckily made me no stranger to hard work, so I adapted to the course load well enough.

The fear was a whole other matter. Since I was a teenager, I have lived with depression and various anxiety disorders, at their worst points causing me to be afraid to/unable to even leave the house. There were times when I thought I would never be able to hold a steady job, period, much less a demanding one like teaching (certainly not law!). But I have never wanted my depression or anxiety to hold me back from what I wanted to achieve, so I have fought hard (and still fight hard every day) not only to cope but to thrive.

I wish I could say I now live sin miedo. But that’s not true. I take the fear in, feel it, and keep going anyway. I was afraid to interview, worked through it and got my dream summer job. Then, I spent a lot of time this summer afraid that I wouldn’t be able figure out how I want to focus my work—whether I would want to focus on school discipline issues, or juvenile justice and education, or one of many other education justice and policy issues. There is so much to do, and I couldn’t figure out where I should be.

This summer, as an intern at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), I realized that I was looking at it all wrong. I was worried about what policy work needs to be done and how I can plug into it, when I should be thinking about what I can bring that is unique. I am thrilled to be interning somewhere where everyone’s experience and perspective is valued—yes, even interns’!—because this job experience is what helped me figure this out.

NWLC works on education justice for girls, among many other program areas. I have been pleasantly surprised to see that I can contribute to their work based on my own experience—as a teacher, and as a student. As a Latina. As a queer person. As someone who wants to end the stigma surrounding mental health disorders as they impact Latina girls (at higher rates than any other demographic, especially in my home city) and their education. One day at work I was trying to express some of this with my supervisor and mentioned that I thought I had “not expertise, but perspective” on certain issues, and she corrected me—“No, it is expertise.”

We are the experts of our own experiences, our own stories. And our stories are our strength. Whatever we do, we bring our whole selves to the work, and it makes our work better.

This summer I realized that what we uniquely bring as Latinas in law and policy is not “tokenism” or “identity politics”—it’s expertise, and that realization makes me look at my work (and future career) differently.

So, this is my advice for anyone starting or considering law school: Face your fears and go for what you want—the opportunity is too precious to waste. And remember that your experience is your strength.