Her young life sounds more like something you would see on an afterschool television special than the formative years of someone who has been accepted into five law schools.
But some 17 years after finding the strength to overcome the challenge of being a homeless teenager – a girl who was on her own and pregnant — Jamie Lee Lawler has graduated magna cum laude from Southern. And this fall, she will attend the University of Connecticut School of Law with a full scholarship.
The 33-year-old Guilford resident has earned a Bachelor of Science degree in political science. She also has a double minor – history and psychology.
She recently was named as one of four SCSU recipients of the Henry Barnard Distinguished Student Award, one of the university’s most prestigious student awards. A total of 12 students are selected each year from Southern, Central, Western and Eastern Connecticut State universities after being judged on academic criteria and community service.
In addition, Lawler has been awarded the John W. Critzer Valedictorian Award for holding the highest GPA among political science majors.
“I can still smell the dirt beneath my cheek and feel the damp morning dew on my skin from the mornings that I awoke as a homeless youth growing up in Connecticut,” Lawler said. But she doesn’t spend much time feeling sorry for herself or dwelling on her life’s earlier difficulties.
“Even though it only lasted about a month, this experience built personal strength that will remain with me for a lifetime,” she said. “In fact, the trials and triumphs of my past have strengthened my ability to overcome adversity.”
Although not finishing high school during her teen years, she would quickly find a job and was able to afford a rent for her and her baby. She actually earned her GED with honors in 1999, slightly ahead of the time that her former classmates received their high school diplomas during their graduation exercises. And she gained a certificate in medical billing/insurance claims analysis with Branford Hall Career Institute in 2001.
She would later travel abroad in 2008, which included a tour of Romania. That experience motivated her to want to become a lawyer and to advocate on behalf of those who have a difficult time advocating for themselves.
“I observed the devastation of a former Communist reign in Romania,” she said. “I saw many homeless children in that country and how they were treated.” She recalled seeing one 5-year-old boy who was told that to solve his problems, he needed to go to an office in some other building and fill out the paperwork.
“That was just absurd. Those types of incidents really motivated me to want to become a lawyer, especially in the area of childhood or education advocacy.”
Lawler said she believes in a “lift as you rise” philosophy, meaning that you should try to help others as you succeed in life.
She credited Art Paulson, chairman of the Political Science Department, with having a major effect on her success in being accepted to law school. “Not only are we prepared academically, but he put us in touch with people at various law schools,” she said.
Paulson said Lawler was an outstanding student. “Her personal and academic development make her a perfect example of what Southern does,” he said. “She has taken the long route toward becoming a student of whom we can be very proud.”
Lawler is a former vice president and treasurer of the SCSU Pre-Law Society.
She is married with three children.