Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Faces: The Women who made me

My Faces series is a little project I started while living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The project is a reflective and introspective exercise, a way to express my gratitude for individuals who have played a crucial role in my personal growth. In anticipation of graduation, I decided to highlight specifically the Women who were most influential to my growth during these last four years of graduate school at BYU.

There is one woman missing from this list—Raquel Flores—one of my closest friends during Law School. Unfortunately, Raquel now lives in Chicago, IL, and it was impossible to take her picture. 

These women have been my guiding light over the last four years, and I would not be the Woman I am today without their love, wisdom, and support

Alyssa D.
I honestly couldn't pinpoint for you the moment in time when Alyssa and I became friends. She's been present in my life for most of this experience. We met in the celestial corner of Provo known as the 97th ward, and because we had pretty solid mutual friends, I knew this friendship would be a win. Lys is the kind of friend who texts you when you least expect a text, but you need it the most. We haven't seen each other as much as I'd like since she moved to Lehi, but when we do see each other the conversation picks up as if we'd seen each other just the week before. Alyssa has the unique ability to validate your feelings, and help you work through the various paths and thoughts in your mind. I think her talent as an artist helps her to work through your life and visualize each step stroke by stroke. I am blessed to know her!

Amber R.
Amber is a storyteller of miracles—whether its miracles that take place in her life or the lives of others. I always leave her presence with a strengthened testimony in the truth that God is a God of miracles. One of my favorite things about Amber is how seamless she weaves stories of personal revelation into updates on her everyday life. Ever time I visit her she reaches a point where her retelling of an experience goes something like this: "I said, 'Hey, God. I'd really like to do this. But, then God said, 'No, Amber I think you should do this.'" I think what I admire most about Amber is her ability to take her passions and turn them into beautiful projects that greatly benefit all around her. Whether it's her extensive research into a Native American tribe that results in a beautiful play about the strength of Native Women, or her desire to learn how Women in the Church live the gospel of Jesus Christ that becomes the incredible Splitting the Sky YouTube series, or her latest endeavor an upcoming podcast for Mormon Women. By her strong example, Amber has taught me that I can continue to use my talents and create well after my formal education is completed.

Ashley P.
Ashley was the first woman I met on this list! I had this larger than life romanticized idea that I could work at the MTC as a Spanish teacher during my first year of law school—silly me! Ashley was the first person to interview me, and when I moved into my ward a few months later, I was surprised to find Ashley was my Relief Society president. Ashley has wisdom beyond her years and is one of the most poised women I know. She handles her challenges with such grace and calm collective; it's honestly inspiring. Being around Ashley makes you feel like everything is going to be all right in the world. She builds you up and shows genuine concern. I love gospel talks with Ashley—they're a reminder that we're all trying to figure out this thing called life. I especially have benefitted from our talks about balancing waiting on the Lord and acting in faith. Though the future is a mystery, talks with Ashley help me remember that with faith it will all work out.

Britney D.
There's no other way to put it: I met Britney by divine plan. I was sitting in my HR class my first year of the MPA program listening to a panel discussion. One of the panelists was a representative from Latinos in Action (LIA), a local non-profit whose mission is to help bridge the education gap with Latino students. I had previously looked up LIA and reached out to them my first year of law school, but nothing solid came from it. So, when one of their employees came to a panel, I jumped at the chance. I met Britney once I got to LIA, and I have gained so much wisdom from this friendship! Britney is incredible; she cares so much about the success of Latino students and is passionate about her work. We go out to lunch from time to time and talk about our dreams of building up our communities, the idea of eternal partnerships, the power of womanhood, and the fulfillment of prophecies in latter days. She has been my role model and an example that I can bring my passions to work. Also, random tidbit, turns out she was college roommates with Elisse (up next). I am constantly amazed by how like-minded women can find themselves in the same circles!

Elisse N.
I first met Elisse when we both independently decided to take Federal Indian Law. After hearing a few of her in-class comments, I knew we had to be friends. She worked as a public school teacher in New York City before coming to law school, and has a passion for making high quality education accessible to all. Halfway through law school, she decided she'd tack on a PhD in Education Policy (!!!!!). There was a semester where we literally took all of the same classes together, and it was probably the best semester of my law school career. Elisse is incredible, and the kind of super-mom I hope to someday be! Her two daughters are adorable and you just know they mean the world to her, and yet she still manages to balance motherhood with her devotion to making the community a better place. She's involved in ALL the things and is basically a role model for the kind of woman I want to be when I'm married. She's a true example that being a champion for your community does not need to be put on hold because of motherhood!

Emmanuelle V.
My beloved carrel-mate. We met a little late in the law school game, just before we took the Civil Rights Seminar course together, but we bonded quickly! I affectionately call her "Manny." Manny knew how to keep things real, and would be my go-to source for all things law school related wokeness. Because of Manny I can now proudly say I've experienced a full-fledged Catholic mass. Manny's been my number one hype girl in law school, nominating me for awards, and sending applications for jobs and fellowships my way. She reassures me that all will be well when times are tough, and she reminds me that I have the power to do great things. Even though she graduated a semester early, she still makes it a point to text and FaceTime me regularly. She hates avocados, but because I love her, I forgive her for it.

Jennafer R.
To most she's "Jenna," but to me she's Jennafer. Our friendship is one of the MANY reasons I'm so happy I audited Sociology 323. Jenna was the TA for the class, and we sat in the same vicinity and rejoiced when we found out we'd both gotten into the Civil Rights seminar. She's maybe the worst texter I've ever met—no, seriously. Yet, somehow she's an incredible snap chatter. No joke, she one time sent me a whopping 20 snapchats in a row. Jenna has an incredible way with words, and can articulate her feelings and beliefs in a way that leaves you feeling refreshed and uplifted. I recently converted her to the gospel of Gina Rodriguez and the genius of Jane the Virgin. We occasionally send each other "vent" texts when we just want to pop Provo's "colorblind" bubble. Knowing Jenna makes me a better human.

Lauren C.
Technically, Lauren and I should have become friends way back in 2012. We were in the same ward right before our missions, but I guess it just wasn't our time? God wasn't having it. We were put into the same ward post-mission. Lauren is the type of friend who will give you really meaningful compliments that let you know she loves and cares for you. My email has been blessed by many an insightful article or podcast episode Lauren has sent my way. Even if Lauren hasn't seen you in months, she'll go out of her way to tell you she misses you and will make solid plans to meet up, catch up on your life, and leave you feeling like there's so much good in the world! You will not find a more empathetic creature. She's an incredibly loyal friend and will shower you with love when you need it the most. Lauren is a piper & scoot expert, a master decorator, and a collector of beautiful cards. You'd be luck to have her in your corner!

Nicole I.
Nicole is the prime example of visiting teaching (RIP) gone right! We met in the 97th ward three years ago when I was assigned to be her visiting teacher, she later would become my 2nd counselor in the Relief Society Presidency, and now I'm lucky to call her my roommate. Nicole is the most service-oriented person I know. I've NEVER heard her complain about serving. Even when she's not feeling super well, I know that she'll put her whole heart into serving, sans any sort of complaint! Nicole pushes me out of my comfort zone whether its by encouraging me to talk to men I'm interested in or convincing me to sing a Selena song at a Dominican restaurant for Spanish karaoke. We watch Jane the Virgin and the occasional Law & Order: SVU episode together. Nicole is also the girl I can gush to about anything family history related, she's always down for family history research parties. She's been my number one way to escape the craziness of grad school and is always quick to rub my back when things get a little too stressful. I love this woman!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

J. Reuben Clark Law School Convocation Address

I had the great honor and privilege of speaking at my Law School graduation. Since then, I've received a few requests for the text of my remarks.  In light of those requests, I decided to post a copy of my address here. The photo below is of me and my childhood best friend, Angeles Estrada, playing in front of the apartments where our families lived in Compton, CA. It felt appropriate to couple my address with this image. 

April 27, 2018

Dean Smith, Professors, graduates, family, friends, and may it please the audience. We did it! We can finally call ourselves "Juris Doctors." We are finished, but in reality our legal journeys are just beginning! We may not know exactly what the future has in store, but like Queen Esther of old, we've felt that we have been prepared to come here, "for such a time as this." I know I speak for more than myself when I say that we could not have gone through this experience without the support of so many of the people in this theatre. So, I offer up a heartfelt, "thank you" to each of you on behalf of my classmates.

Law School has changed us. Perhaps you've notice? Maybe we've demonstrated our newly acquired rhetoric skills for you in a debate over family dinner? Sorry about that. Or, it's become apparent that our newfound favorite answer to every question is, "well, it depends." We've probably ruined a once beloved criminal show or two by pointing out the gross inaccuracies and ethical violations of each episode. And lastly, forgive us if we never want to eat another slice of Dominoes or Papa John's pizza again, or if we get sudden cravings for just a handful of goldfish crackers and Swedish fish. I hope though, that there is one change that you've been able to notice in us—a deep understanding and commitment to our role as advocates. 

As students of this law school, we've been able to study the laws of men in the light of the laws of God and draw upon the teachings of the world's greatest advocate—our Savior Jesus Christ. He was an advocate who both represented and healed the guilty. 

Law school is not for the faint of heart, we've willingly subjected ourselves to the Socratic method, spent hours reading cases trying to make sense of opinions and interpretations of statutes, and have tucked ourselves away in corners of the library warding off undergrads during finals from our precious study alcoves, all of this just to have our entire semester depend on a grade from a two to three hour written exam.

Why, you may ask? Why would we do this? For many of us, law school has felt like a calling. While writing this speech, I reached out to a few of my classmates and asked why they had decided to come to law school. I share with you just a few of the responses from the class of 2018. 

"I have been wanting to go to law school since I [was] 14. However, my vision was crystalized after my mission. I desired to further my education in a way [so] I could help my African community and open more doors for the church and better establish the Kingdom of God on earth."

"...I wanted to use my talents and abilities in a way that could positively impact people specifically and the world generally. I saw so many amazing people who needed good legal help when I was a missionary, but they didn't know how to get it or where to get it. So I wanted to fill that gap."

"I love America. I joined the military . . . and I took an oath before God to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. But once I got in the military and was doing my job, I felt like it wasn't enough. I wanted to live up to that oath . . . I felt like I could do more. Like I should do more . . ."

"I decided way back in undergrad when I was finishing my journalism major that I would rather be on the other side of the camera helping people rather than reporting on the bad things happening to them."

These are just a few brief snippets from the marvelous individuals I have been fortunate enough to call classmates and friends. 

On the first day of Contracts my 1L year, Professor Jennejohn asked us, "why are you here?" As in, why we were in law school. I remember him saying, "Some of you might answer because you want to make good money, and you know, that's great, but I would advise you to find something more . . . A cause." He went on to tell us that this cause had to be something that tugged at our heart strings, something that got us to school in the morning, something that helped us persevere even when we were tired of submitting draft upon draft for our legal briefs—something that gave us the endurance to go on.

Throughout this experience, my motivation has been my Latino roots, mi raza, mi gente, and the people of my hometown of Compton, CA who for me represent those that live in the inner city in urban areas around the country. People who are plagued by the stereotype that "nothing good can come from the hood."

Though I had never met a single lawyer prior to coming to law school, I have been blessed with examples of great advocates in my life. My greatest advocates have been my parents, who knew better than to have me attend my home schools in Compton. We used the address of a family friend so that my brothers and I could attend a better school district and have a fighting chance for high quality education. For seven years, my morning routing consisted of waking up at 5 a.m., driving 20 minutes to a bus stop, and then taking an additional 30 minute bus ride to school. I will forever be grateful for the sacrifices my parents made in order to give me a better education.

The day I found out I was accepted into law school was an emotional one. To celebrate, my mother and I went to the movie theaters to watch the biopic film, César Chávez. César Chávez has long been a hero of mine. He was a labor organizer and civil rights activist who advocated for the rights of farm workers in the Central California valley. He was committed to securing living wages and sanitary living conditions for these individuals. In short, he was everything I have tried to be. Chavez taught, "The end of all education should be to serve others."

I've seen the embodiment of this quote in the daily lives of my classmates. Law school has a reputation of being cruel and cutthroat, but I have seen my classmates serve each other by sharing outlines, offering to babysit, and caring for each other when illness and accident hit. I've seen my classmates work hard to further the cause of religious freedom and volunteer in clinics to help indigent clients get access to family law and immigration services. They've volunteered their time in Pro Bono work and have helped serve juvenile youth through the community lawyer clinic. This 2018 class will be a force for good.

Though today we graduate, I hope that we do not forget that we are very much our brother's and sister's keepers. We have spent two, three, or four years learning a time intensive and extremely valuable healer's art. In closing, I share with you the admonition from proverbs, "Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy" (Proverbs 31:9). Thank you, and congratulations to my fellow 2018 graduates!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Graduation 2018

10 years after my high school graduation, I graduated with my JD/MPA from BYU! I now have three degrees behind me, which suffice it to say feels pretty crazy. 

For my undergrad, I only attended the commencement ceremony—honestly, my undergrad graduation didn't feel like that big of a deal, but rather felt like a pit stop along the path to where I actually wanted to end up. I think my nonchalant attitude with my undergrad graduation had everything to do with the fact that I had a mission call, and knew I'd be leaving in a few months only to return to BYU for more school afterwards. 

This time, I went to ALL THREE CEREMONIES (Commencement, Marriott School Convocation, Law School Convocation). The Law School ceremonies were a ticketed event, and because I'm Mexican, I had to request an additional 13 tickets on top of the 8 I'd been given 😅😅. And of course, in true Flores/Quesada family fashion, I had last minute requests the day before graduation and even had family members sneak backstage (TWICE) during the graduation ceremony. Have I told you how much I love being Mexican? 😂😂

 I painted my grad cap with a quote in tribute to the homegirl Gina Rodriguez (It's a nod to her golden globes acceptance speech). Technically, BYU doesn't allow you to paint your graduation caps, because "it's contrary to the dignity of the ceremonies and is inappropriate." But, technically, I didn't care. There was NO way I was going to pass up on the chance to be a part of the #latinxgradcaps movement, and definitely not when I'm the first Latina in over 10 years to graduate with a JD/MPA from BYU. 

Probably the best part of graduation was that I managed to keep it a secret to my entire family that I was speaking at the law school graduation. (I will post a copy of my address later for those who were unable to attend/are interested in reading). After the law school ceremony, my entire family came to the hotel where my parents were staying for (claro) a pizza party celebration + tres leches cake.  Thank you to the Hampton Inn & Suites Provo staff who let our large Mexican family take over your dining area to celebrate, your allowing us to do this was the icing on the cake of a really wonderful weekend! 

Sorry about the picture overload, but IT'S MY GRADUATION & I'LL POST IF I WANT TO!

Chloe & Jenna were the first lovely ladies I ran into at Commencement!
Nicole. I love this girl so much.
Everything I am is because of these two. Where would I be without Liz & Pay!?
Walking the stage at the Marriott School Commencement Ceremonies. My dad got tired of waiting, so we ended up leaving shortly after my name had been read. #mexicansbelike 😂😂

Women of Color! We out here at BYU Law
With Prof. Steele, a true mentor & friend!
Janice (aka Janet), Emmanuelle, and I. 
Cami and I are both joint degree students. We started out together, but Cami got a JD/MBA instead of a JD/MPA. 
Everyone who came to my Law School graduation ceremonies. 😂

My prima Magos and her children.
The Flores side of the family. IDK where Kassie's looking.
Los hermanos Flores. 
Shoutout to Delipan bakery in Provo for making my beautiful tres leches cake!! ¡Se lo agradezco muchismio!
P.S. Can someone please tell Gina Rodriguez that I want to have lunch with her!?!? Please, and thank you!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Reflections on my last day of Law School...

Yesterday was my last day of Law School classes. I celebrated by going to the temple. I felt like I was reliving the last day of my mission all over again. As I sat in the Celestial room of the Provo temple, I offered up a prayer of gratitude for all that Heavenly Father has blessed me these last 4 years of graduate school. It was an emotional experience, a happy one, and I felt true joy thinking about all the future holds.

I get asked all the time, "how did you decide to go to law school?"

It was 10th grade.
French class.
My teacher was trying to decide which French film she would play for us that day. I had some very strong opinions about the matter, although, for the life of me, I can't remember what they were. What I do remember is Ma. Vrabel saying simply, "You know, you ought to go to Law School!"

She planted the seed.

My sophomore year of undergrad at BYU, I was walking towards the Cannon Center when I saw a flyer on the floor advertising BYU's JD/MPA program. Law School of course, was always part of the plan, but I had no idea what a MPA was. However, once I saw the name of the degree I knew I had to pursue this program path! I graduated from BYU, took the LSAT, and left on my mission. Toward the end of my mission I used my p-days to work on my applications for both Law School and the MPA program.

How did I decide to choose BYU law?
This is a VERY Mormon answer, so forgive me! I had been given a very specific promise in my patriarchal blessing that post-mission I'd return to BYU (BYU is mentioned by name) to continue my education here. Besides this specific promise, I had a deep understanding that my time in Provo was not done. I'm more on the liberal side of the political scale, and I wanted to learn how to combine my faith with my liberal ideologies to learn how to do the most good for the most people! Even though BYU has a bit of a conservative reputation, I am living proof that this can be done!

My grad school experience has been defined by a commitment to service to the poor, needy, and the most vulnerable populations in our country. On the very first day of Contracts, Prof. Jennejohn told our class to find a cause, something that would propel us, motivate us to press forward when things got hard during law school. My motivation became my Latino roots, mi raza, mi gente, and the people of my hometown of Compton, CA who for me represent those that live in the inner city urban areas around the country, people who are plagued by the stereotype that "nothing good can come from the hood."

In law school, I've learned a new language, an empowering language: the language of the law, and I truly feel "endowed with power from on high." I feel a responsibility and duty to use my newly acquired language skills to help lift the brokenhearted and downtrodden.

The MPA program has given me concrete technical skills to learn how to truly work in a team setting, evaluate program effectiveness, and make some sense of budgets and finances. I've learned just enough to be dangerous. I've also supplemented my learning by taking advantage of some incredible undergraduate courses that have helped me make sense of the underpinnings of our nation's ugliest issues. On the legal side of things, I filled my course load with classes that spark my passion: Federal Indian Law, Civil Rights: section 1983, Civil Rights, Social Political Feminist Legal Thought, Social Change, and Immigration.

My BYU graduate school experience would be nothing were it not for my incredible professors and mentors! There's prof. Eva Witesman from the MPA program who boldly declared the power and value of female education in a BYU devotional that went viral. I took every course I possibly could from Prof. Michalyn Steele who has used her legal skills to help improve the lives of Native peoples.

There's, Prof. Kif Augustine-Adams who my class affectionately named "double A" who helped me explore my feminist understanding of the world. Prof. Rebecca DeSchwinitz, an undergraduate professor whom I met through my participation in the civil rights seminar, who advocates passionately for the voices of minority students on BYU campus. Dr. Jake Rugh who has become a true friend and uses his education to bring much needed truth to light. And finally, Prof. Carl Hernandez who somehow manages to take charge of a number of legal clinics to make sure that he does everything in his power to improve the lives of the poor and needy.

These mentors have inspired me, and are my symbolic torchbearers. They have made my BYU graduate school experience complete.

There's an Elder Kimball quote that has been mentioned quite a bit in Church settings recently:
Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world . .. will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.
When I graduate on April 27th, I will be the first Latina in over 10 years to graduate with a JD/MPA from BYU.  I know that coming to graduate school has been a way for me to fully play out my part in this prophecy. Graduate school has been a necessary step of my "filling the measure of my creation."