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September 02, 2014

Finding her voice

South University Newsroom

Tami Stuart
Associate of Science in Paralegal Studies
Class of Spring 2011
Employment: The Law Office of Thomas C. Tankersley, PCWhen

Tami Stuart rose to address her fellow graduates at the June 2011 commencement ceremonies for South University’s Montgomery Campus, it was one more experience she could not have imagined before she decided to enroll in the Associate of Science in Paralegal Studies program.

Storms were in Tami’s life in the years leading up to her decision to pursue college as an adult. Some were figurative storms on a personal level, but one was a literal storm that blew her life onto an entirely different course.

“As a resident of the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2005, Hurricane Katrina had an effect on me that I did not see coming,” said Tami. “As adults, we are often set in our ways. But trust me, a few life-changing events can unset you real fast.”

Within two years of Katrina, Tami was in a new city, Mobile, Alabama, and a newly single mother with her youngest child soon to graduate from high school.  She joined the work force and found herself in a less-than-satisfying job with little possibility of advancement. On her evening walks, her path through a nearby college campus got her thinking of going back to school.

“The wheels were turning,” she remembered. “I knew I would need to pursue a career I could be passionate about, and something I would be happy doing for a long time. My father was an attorney and he taught me respect for the justice system. I remembered spending many happy hours in his office, when he would point to his statue of Lady Justice and explain the importance of justice being blind and the scales being fair.”

During Tami’s search for a school, she knew being close to family was necessary, but the quality of the program was also very important.

“The fact that the Paralegal Studies program at South University is approved by the American Bar Association was a big part of my decision,” Tami said.

Tami sorted her belongings, moved in with family, took out student loans, found part-time work, and arrived on campus for orientation. Looking back at the student ID photo she took that day, Tami said she does not recognize the insecure person looking back at her.

“Going back to school, you are asked to do some things you’re not comfortable doing,” she said, remembering an oral presentation she was assigned during her first term at South University. “I was so afraid I would freeze, and when I made it through the speech, the feeling was powerful.”
Tami was learning to think critically, to shape her own ideas and express them without hesitation.

“Time and again,” she told her classmates at graduation, “my fears were put to rest, my voice became clear, and the words I heard were my own. That builds confidence.”

Now Tami works as a paralegal in the law office of Thomas C. Tankersley, PC, coming to work every day with a self-assurance that she earned alongside her degree.

Tami said that choosing South University was one of the best decisions of her life. But she put it a different way in her commencement speech:

“Can you put a price on education, an idea, or a voice? The cost would have been greater if I had not tried.”

Editor’s note: The Associate of Science in Paralegal Studies program at South University’s Montgomery campus is approved by the American Bar Association, 321 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60654-7598; 1-800.285.2221.