Back row from left: Jennifer Matthews Valiyi (holding Sara), Kashy Valiyi, and Ray Chamy.
Front row from left:Michael J. Carroll, Sr.; Whitney Carroll (with son, Michael, Jr.); George J. Taylor; Yuna E. Scott (with daughter, Ariana Rose Salem); Melissa Leonard; Mike Leonard; and their twins, Justin and Brandon Leonard.
Inspired Student Gives Back to Students Who are Working ParentsBy Rebecca Allen
Behind every scholarship created at the NSU Law Center is a compelling story of an inspired donor with a reason for giving back. In 2011, George J. Taylor (’12), law student and board member of the Salah Foundation, created the first scholarship of its kind, the James and Beatrice Salah Scholarship, for evening law students who also are raising children. This is the story about how an inspired law student became an inspired donor.
Not unlike his classmates, Taylor was conflicted and overwhelmed when he decided to take on a rigorous graduate program. He was working a full-time job. He also was juggling his time between being a husband and a father of two young sons, while attending classes and keeping up with his studies. It had been more than seven years since he graduated from college, so he was naturally worried about how he would perform as a law-school student.
While managing his own challenges, Taylor discovered the demands of other evening students. Moved by their tenacious spirit, he was determined to help. He wanted to give back and somehow lighten the load for students who already had endured so much, yet still managed to attend law school. He knew that financial concerns were burdensome for many, and that a scholarship specifically designated to assist evening students did not exist. When asked how his personal experiences impacted his motivation and decision to find a way to help, he explained: “I knew firsthand how difficult it was to work, attend law school, and find the time to raise a family.” Taylor spoke about how he admired his fellow students as he watched them courageously face “tremendous obstacles and unimaginable adversity.” He went on to say that it was “truly humbling to see an individual stare down adversity and say, ‘I know the odds are against me, but I will not let them defeat me.’ ”
Taylor was taught to take nothing for granted. He was a hardworking family man and law student. He also was a board member of his family’s philanthropic organization. Wanting to give back to the law school that was giving him so much, and inspired by the stories of other students, Taylor met with the board of the family foundation, shared what he had learned, and told the foundation how it could help evening students and their families. Taylor’s proposal resonated with the foundation, and it was in line with their mission to support education and families. A humble man, Taylor requested that the NSU Law Center establish a scholarship on the condition that neither his involvement nor his identity be revealed. The Law Center agreed, and the Salah Foundation created the James and Beatrice Salah Scholarship, named in honor of Taylor’s great-uncle and great aunt. This became the NSU Law Center’s very first scholarship dedicated to providing much-needed financial assistance exclusively to evening students raising children.
Taylor’s inspiration honored a legacy of giving. When questioned about the evolution of his inspiration, he said: “I learned from a young age the value and importance of giving back, and the importance of perseverance, loyalty, and most of all, integrity. I was taught to work hard, and most importantly, to give back to the community. It is a great honor and a privilege to be part of a family and a family foundation whose focus is on giving back in ways that strengthen individuals, families, and communities to become productive and responsible citizens.”
Noreen Salah Burpee, Taylor’s mother, executive director of the Salah Foundation, and a 2013 recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, has devoted much of her life to helping others and continuing the traditions of her family. When asked about the Salah Foundation and its mission, Burpee explains, “Our family foundation remains true to the memories and traditions rooted in the spirit and heart of our ancestors. Our family shares a passionate commitment to the organizations we support. I believe that one cannot take from this world without giving back.” The importance of family unity and support is a priority for Burpee and her son, but so is their deep concern for all families. It is clear that the impact this family has on the lives of others and the quality of life in our community is the effect of intergenerational influences and family strengths.
As a young man, Taylor understood the meaning of giving back. “I was an eighth grader at St. Elizabeth’s Catholic School, and I recall volunteering to serve lunch and coffee to residents of an adjacent nursing home, not something a typical eighth grader chooses to do,” he said. “I admit that I seized the opportunity to miss class and began offering to take the place of my fellow students who, unlike me, would rather attend class. Then, one day, I noticed how happy the residents were to see me. At that same time, I also realized that I was just as happy to see them. Giving back is a two-way street, and I was getting back just as much, if not more, than I was giving.” Taylor graduated fourth in his class from NSU’s Law Center in December of 2012. Until recently, his identity and involvement with creating the scholarship had remained a secret. Taylor continues to serve on the board of the Salah Foundation and is also a board member of the Broward Health Foundation. When asked about his plans for the future, he said: “As I begin my career as an attorney, the combination of my legal education, 15 years of real-world business experience, and service to the community through my role as a board member for two philanthropic foundations, will be invaluable.
George J. Taylor (’12), board member of the Salah Foundation, created a scholarship to support the educational aspirations of NSU Law Center evening students. Five recipients of the James and Beatrice Salah Scholarship shared their personal thoughts and life experiences, and expressed their gratitude to Taylor and the Salah Foundation for the generosity and interest in their education, families, and children. Here are their inspirational stories.
Whitney Carroll (’13), mother of two, knew that attending law school would not be easy, but her family had weathered greater adversity. There is a noticeable strength in her voice as Carroll makes it clear that deciding to attend law school was not her decision; it was a family decision.
“The decision to attend law school came about because of the encouragement and support of my family. I was diagnosed, at age 30, with a rare form of cancer,” she said. “This was a trying time for our family, but we made it through, stronger, and I just celebrated five years cancer free. Although we knew that my going to law school was likely to be one of our toughest challenges, we committed as a family to see it through.”
The James and Beatrice Salah Scholarship contributed to her personal growth in unexpected ways, Carroll said. “I wanted to be a professional, but I also wanted to be with my kids. This internal struggle gave me a deeper respect and admiration for my mother, who raised three kids by herself.’’
The scholarship lessened financial pressures for Carroll. “Child-care costs and the cost to commute are two expenses that I was able to cover with the assistance provided by this scholarship. I was able to enjoy my law-school experience more, and the extra money gave my family immeasurable peace of mind. I am honored to have had the opportunity to be one of the recipients of this great scholarship,” she said.
Carroll received hands-on experience while working as an intern at Ciklin, Lubitz, Martens, and O’Connell in West Palm Beach, where she will be working full time as an associate. She lives in Wellington, Florida, with her husband, Mike; their 13-year-old daughter, Mikayla; and 5-year-old son, Michael.
Ray Chamy (’13) was eager to begin his academic career as a law student, but his decision was bittersweet. “As a father of a young daughter, I knew that being an evening law student and working full time would present many challenges. I left my daughter and family in Central Florida and moved to Fort Lauderdale,” he said. “The separation and distance between us was the most difficult for me.”
The only job available required Chamy to work two weeknights for four-hour shifts (10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.), and to put in an additional 32 hours on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. “I still thought I would be able to visit my family more often, but between school and full-time work, it was simply not feasible,’’ he said. “Usually, I only saw my family once a month. I began to understand what it must be like for members of our military who are separated from their families by vast oceans.”
According to Chamy, “the scholarship afforded me the blessing of reducing the financial stress of law school, allowing me to focus on the study of law instead of worrying about finances. I thank the Salah Foundation for their support, which has allowed me to achieve more than I could have imagined. I have been so inspired by this honor and opportunity, and I hope, someday soon, to be able to pay it forward.”
Chamy resides in Mount Dora, Florida, with his wife, Tamie, and 10-year-old daughter, Sydni. He earned his M.B.A. and Pharm.D. in 2002 at NSU as a dual-degree student. He plans to open a private law practice with an NSU Law Center classmate. He is especially interested in health care law and legislation. He currently works as a staff pharmacist for Omnicare of South Florida in Weston.
Harry M. (Mike) Leonard is currently a fourth-year, evening law student. As a scholarship recipient, Leonard said, “The James and Beatrice Salah Scholarship has greatly contributed to my success as a student by reducing the stress and uncertainty of financial pressures. My family and I are grateful to the Salah Foundation for creating this scholarship and for their caring concern for evening students. It is an honor to be a recipient of their generous support.”
Sharing his thoughts about attending law school, in general, and describing his successes as he approaches his last year at the NSU Law Center, Leonard said, “I knew I would be challenged by time and uncertainty, but I aspired to have a career as a lawyer because it would allow me to contribute to society in meaningful ways.” This father of twins also said, “I worried about depriving my children of the experience of having their dad present, especially during their formative years. I still worry about being accessible to my children, and I make sure the time I spend with them is meaningful, quality time.’’
Participating in extracurricular activities was important to Leonard, so he had to have the proper balance, since this requires more time away from his family. “I have been very active in Moot Court and was the chief justice last year. I was also a junior staff member of Nova Law Review, winning several Red Pen awards for editing performance. I am a senior staff member this year,” he said.
Leonard will graduate in 2014. He resides in Lake Worth with his wife, Melissa, and their 10-year-old sons, Justin and Brandon.
Yuna E. Scott (’13) shares her story without hesitation and with a great sense of pride. “I dreamed of being a lawyer for as long as I can remember. I grew up in Cuba, a place where dreams were just that: dreams. I remember playing with other kids from el barrio and pretending to be a lawyer. Since arriving in the United States, I have been working toward making my dream come true,” she said.
After college, while I was studying for the LSAT, I found out I was pregnant. I had seen the scenario play out too many times to think that I would be different: girl gets pregnant, drops out of school, and gives up on her dreams. Something inside me told me to keep trying, so with my newborn baby girl in my arms, I resumed studying for the LSAT,’’ she said. “I remember crying when I received the letter from the NSU Law Center. I knew going to law school with a newborn would be both financially difficult and extremely time consuming, but, I also knew that to achieve a great goal, I had to make a sacrifice. I managed to balance working, taking care of my daughter, studying, and volunteering with several pro bono organizations assisting immigrants. Volunteering gave me significant experience and personal satisfaction, but limited the number of hours I could work. It was the James and Beatrice Salah Scholarship that made it possible for me to continue working with pro bono organizations without worrying about financial stress. I am truly grateful for this generous support. I hope to one day have the ability and honor to help others as the Salah Foundation has helped me.”
Scott resides in Cooper City with her three-year-old daughter, Ariana Rose Salem. She is currently working at the Miami-based firm that hosted her internship, Kurzban Kurzban Weinger Tetzeli and Pratt P.A.
Jennifer Matthews Valiyi, a fourth-year Law Center student, was a second-year evening law student when her daughter, Sara, was born. She describes her experience as a law student and finding time for all of her responsibilities as a “persistent challenge” that leaves her in a state of “perpetual exhaustion.” Her spirited personality and contagious attitude leave little doubt that she faces any challenge head on.
Valiyi recalled the big plans she and her husband had when they relocated to Florida from Indiana, and credits her husband with motivating her to succeed and fueling her determination and perseverance. “I learned invaluable lessons on how others managed juggling work, family, and law school. They were important lessons, because I come from a working-class family. My parents only have a high school education, and very few of my extended family members hold undergraduate degrees. I will be the first in my family to obtain a first-professional degree.’’
Valiyi looked to her future and said, “My goal of being the first person in my family to obtain a first-professional degree in a challenging, but rewarding, profession and living my life as an example for my daughter is all the motivation I need. Obtaining my degree will serve as a ‘thank you’ to my husband for supporting me through the years.”
When she started law school, Valiyi knew that she was taking on a tremendous amount of work. She had not planned for the additional difficulties that soon followed. She and her husband were told that their unborn daughter had health problems. They learned that the baby had a malformation on one of her lungs that required surgical intervention in utero. Their daughter was five weeks old when she underwent a second surgery to remove the malformation that had consumed the top left lobe of her lung. After a very stressful year, Valiyi and her husband are happy their daughter has no pending health issues.
The fourth-year law student expressed her appreciation for the James and Beatrice Salah Scholarship and for the support of the Salah Foundation. “From our experiences this past year, we have learned that we are not in control of all the events that will come our way, but we know we have to always keep a positive attitude! This scholarship was a blessing that we will forever remember as a positive contribution to the beginning of our new chapter. Thank you. I will be forever grateful.”
Valiyi lives in Miami with her husband, Kashy, and Sara, who is now a one-year-old. She currently works as a paralegal at Hoffman & Hoffman, P.A., in Miami, where she has
been employed since 2006.