Southwestern Torch Bearers Keep it in the Family
Joy Kraft Miles left a career as a teacher to attend law school. She had good reason to be confident in her ability to succeed. "My mother went to Southwestern with four children living in the house when I was a teenager," she said. "I figured if she could do it 25 years ago, then I could start a new career pathway with a toddler."
Marcia Kraft '91 advised her daughter to study hard and be patient with the process of becoming a lawyer. "Joy saw me as a role model," she said. "She felt that 'if my mom could do it, so could I,' so there was never any need for me to coach her in that direction."
Marcia and Joy are not alone. They are continuing Southwestern's rich tradition of torch bearers. Generations of Southwestern graduates have taken tremendous pride in watching family members follow in their footsteps. Seventeen members of Southwestern's Class of 2014 are celebrating the legacy started by their kin. During the May 18 Commencement ceremony, they will be joined on stage by their alumni relatives who will present them with their diplomas.
Robert Dickerson '79 had such a good experience at Southwestern that his enthusiasm for the school influenced his daughter. "I actually only applied to Southwestern," Alyssa Dickerson said. "It was the only school I wanted to attend."
Her dad has devoted his career to intellectual property litigation, but Alyssa hopes to practice family law. Robert Dickerson calls his daughter's decision to attend Southwestern very rewarding and reassuring. "That a child wants to do what you do sort of means you haven't screwed things up too badly at home," he said. "And that they want to go to the same school you did underscores all that a bit."
Two months before starting law school, Christine Polito ran a marathon. "I remember my dad greeting me at the finish line and telling me - 'If you can get through this, then you have the mental tenacity to get through law school. Law school is a marathon, not a sprint.'"
Both of her parents - Steven and Denise Polito - graduated from Southwestern in 1983. Denise Polito said, "I think it was fate. If I hadn't gone there, I never would have met Steve, and Christine wouldn't be here!" Steven Polito practices insurance defense and Denise Polito is an estate-planning and probate attorney. Christine wants to be a litigator.
"I definitely feel a special connection to my parents because of law school and Southwestern," Christine Polito said. "It gives us the opportunity to have really meaningful discussions about the law and current topics. It also gives us the opportunity to attend Southwestern events together. I love that my parents play such an active roll in my education."
Dustin Thordarson, who is graduating from the part-time day program, said Southwestern was the most logical choice for him. "I knew that it provided a quality education, as evidenced by my mother's abilities as a practitioner." His mother is Judi Jacobs, who graduated from Southwestern in 1994 and practices with his stepfather in an elite personal injury firm that handles catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases.
Jacobs' generosity toward Southwestern continues to inspire her son. "My mom started the Graduate Class Gift and has made a $10,000 donation the last four years running, and this year, I was one of the co-chairs of the Graduate Class Gift Committee," Thordarson said. "Aside from the benefit of making a contribution that goes towards funding public service grants for my fellow classmates, participating in a leadership role was something I chose to do in order to pay homage to my mother's initiative. It's an excellent program and she has demonstrated the importance time and again of supporting your alma mater by making financial contributions that directly benefit the student body."
Although he plans to branch out and find unique opportunities as an attorney, Thordarson will always appreciate the way his experience at Southwestern deepened his bond with his mother. "To share the connection with my mom, knowing that she spent countless hours in the same classrooms as I have, and knowing that she truly understands the Southwestern experience has brought us closer together... Like my mother, I plan on staying involved in the Southwestern community in order to pay it forward to future generations of students, because it's the right thing to do."
Not all family legacies are parent/child relationships. Zareh Kousian, who is graduating from the evening program, chose Southwestern on the advice of his older brother Harout Keosian '04, a civil litigator with his own firm. The brothers have worked together for the last five years and will continue to do so after Kousian graduates.
"My brother advised me to work hard at the office while in law school so that when I graduate, I will already have some experience under my belt," Kousian said. "I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to work and gain a great amount of experience throughout law school. Working opened my eyes to real life scenarios."
He hopes Southwestern will remain a family tradition in the future. "If my children ever want to go to law school, I will definitely recommend that they attend Southwestern," Kousian said. "It would be amazing if our family tradition grows within our campus."