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July 14, 2023 Judicial Division

Stephanie’s Story

By Hon. Linda Strite Murnane, Republic of the Marshall Islands

I first met Stephanie in the summer of 2019 at an Outreach Program of the ABA Judicial Division’s Standing Committee on Diversity in the Judiciary. As part of a panel of speakers presenting before law students and young lawyers, I shared with the audience my story of being without a place to stay when my parents threw me out of their house when I was 16 years old.

I had shared the story before, and with other groups, but on that particular day, the story connected with a law student attending the University of California San Francisco Law School. She had been carrying a secret she had hidden from her family and even her friends that, while attending a community college pursuing her undergraduate degree, she too had experienced homelessness.

For part of her own educational journey, she found the cost of on and off campus housing in the San Francisco area too much and had resorted to sleeping in her car. The message I shared that day with all of the students was one I often share: “You are worthy.” I tell the students to look in the mirror and repeat the phrase “I am worthy” every day, and repeatedly, until you believe it. I tell these students, who are often the students who are going deeply into debt through student loans and pursue low paying jobs in order to attain their J.D. degree.

After our August 2019 contact, I stayed in touch with Stephanie. We discussed how she could share her experience of becoming homeless with others who were attending law school, and how she could use her story to improve the lives of others. We discussed, perhaps more importantly, how she could tell her mother who had worked so hard to help her get to the law school door, that she had experienced homelessness while at the community college. She took that advice and volunteered her skills at the law school and on the university campus to help other students facing homelessness after we met. She was no longer afraid to share her story.

She asked me how I decided the details I should share in telling my story. I sent this advice back to her since she was preparing to share her own story, making her own vulnerabilities known to others:

“In terms of refining the way in which I share my story I can tell you that I started with this:

1. I want those who hear my story to be inspired, not impressed.

2. I want people who hear my story to know that if I could overcome the odds I faced, they can too.

3. I want to give enough detail to make sure that the hearer understands that the experience was real, but I don't want to share so much that the hearer says, "well, that doesn't apply to my awful life circumstance."

On May 8, 2023, nearly four years after our first meeting at the Standing Committee on Diversity in the Judiciary’s Outreach program in San Francisco, I received this message:

“Dear Linda,

I am writing to let you know that I passed the February 2023 California Bar Exam! I still need to take the Attorney's Oath, but I am one step closer to being a licensed attorney. This is such a big step, and I am so grateful that I got to hear your story and get to know you through LEOP at UC Hastings (now UC Law SF). 

Although I am still searching for the right place to begin my career, I am looking forward to making a positive change in my community through the work that I will do. Just last week, I volunteered through the Human Library at a local community college. During the event, I served as an "open book" on student homelessness for community members to ask questions about the subject and my experiences. I met a student who had experienced homelessness in her youth and she told me that it was inspiring to see that "it gets better." You inspired me in that same way. It meant the world to me to hear your story and to know that a person could accomplish so much despite facing an enormous amount of adversity. I hope that I can inspire and open doors for others in the way that you have helped me.”

If you teared up as you read this message, I assure you, that you aren’t alone.

What we do in the ABA Standing Committee on Diversity in the Judiciary matters. Your willingness to share your own story of challenge and adversity matters. We, collectively, are building a better Bar Association by inspiring young law students and lawyers to make a difference in the lives of others.

Congratulations, Stephanie. I am so proud of you. You Are Worthy.

Hon. Linda Strite Murnane

Associate Justice, High Court of the Republic of the Marshall Islands

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