I learned about PLEN through an advisor at my college. I ultimately decided to attend the seminar because I felt that it was a crucial resource for women interested in pursuing a career in the law field. Although I was one of the first and only students from SUNY Geneseo to attend the Women in Public Policy seminar in Washington, D.C. I quickly bought my flight to DC because I knew it would be a once in a lifetime experience.
Before attending the seminar, I was unsure whether or not attending law school directly after attaining my undergraduate degree was the correct step. I was hoping that the seminar would either reaffirm my thoughts on going to law school or introduce me to other career options. During the seminar, I learned from a variety of different women in leadership positions that there is not a direct path towards excellence. After sitting through a number of amazing panel discussions, I learned that everyone has a unique career path.
The one factor that all of the women had in common was ambition. All of the speakers were once sitting in our same seats. They were once young women with great aspirations and goals. Naturally, all of the women had unique life changing opportunities and/or roadblocks that led them to where they are today. Some women joked that they withdrew their medical and law school applications without telling their parents, and others shared with us how a random outing in DC led them to their current careers.
The seminar exceeded my expectations. All of the panelists selected to participate in the seminar were all incredibly empowering and real. I appreciated the fact that not all of the panelists followed the traditional path of attending law school and working as an attorney. Some panelists were still crafting their stories, and working towards accomplishing their own goals.
Another really important piece of advice that stuck with me was the importance of owning my story. One of the panelists in particular shared that while she was in college her family was homeless and she was the main breadwinner in the family. She courageously attended college, supported her family financially and sought out extracurricular opportunities. Her story was both empowering and reminded me of the importance of my own story. I migrated from the Dominican Republic at the age of two. My mother chose to remain in the US indefinitely by overstaying her visa, and enrolling me in school as soon as I was eligible. Growing up, I was rarely asked about my documentation status. I first came to terms with my illegal status at the age of 16 when I started to think about attending university. At the age of 17, my siblings, mother and I moved into a domestic violence shelter due to my step fathers drinking addiction and violent behavior.
While I resided in a shelter, I nonetheless continued to maintain my grades, interned at a nonprofit organization and joined extracurricular activities. The nonprofit organization where I interned offered my mother and I free legal help and a chance at applying for legal permanent residency. I was fortunate enough to gain legal status the first semester after I enrolled in college, however my mom was not as fortunate as I was. Despite the 2016 presidential election and the recent government shutdown, she is still hopeful that she will one day also gain legal status in the country.
PLEN reminded me why I chose to pursue a career in the law field. Before attending PLEN, I was considering following a strict path featuring 3 years in law school and working in a law firm. Thanks to the PLEN Women in Public Policy seminar, I am now aware of all of the endless opportunities for women interested in advocating on behalf of immigrants and/or other disadvantaged groups. PLEN also opened my eyes to the idea that I can run for office in the near future, and advocate for issues that I am passionate about on Capitol Hill. My career path doesn’t have to lead me to a small cube like office. The possibilities are limitless.
Altogether, PLEN was such an empowering experience. I’m so fortunate that I had the opportunity to travel to DC on my own for the first time, and surround myself with such strong like-minded women. Moreover, I would like to share that on my way back to New York City, I was lucky enough to run into congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. As I walked up to her and thanked her for all of her work on behalf of the Bronx and Queens, I realized that this will not be the last time that I travel to DC. As women like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and the other diverse congresswoman take up the halls of Capitol Hill, they leave more and more doors open for women like myself.
Karla Lora is a junior at SUNY Geneseo studying Sociology and Political Science. She attended the 2019 Women in Public Policy seminar with a scholarship sponsored by the PJ Edington Scholarship Fund.