Valentina Mora at the University of Cincinnati College of Law

Choosing Courage. Embracing Change.

If you are not doing something that you love, you are not doing your best. I'm just trying to follow that path, where I am helping others and I'm happy.

For the first few hours of her flight to the U.S., Valentina Mora (LLM, ‘22), was wracked with doubt about her decision to enroll in UC Law’s LLM program.

“I remember the first flight was awful. I'm like, what am I doing? Is it worth it?” she said. “And of course, I cried. I was leaving a lot behind.”

Valentina, a native of Bogotá, Colombia, had enrolled in the LLM program as a dual degree student only weeks prior, leaving her little time to deliberate before the start of the school year. A perk of being a student at Pontificia Universidad de Javeriana (one of only two law schools in the world where this UC Law program is offered), enrolling as a dual degree student meant she would finish her last year of law school and earn a master’s degree simultaneously.

But with this opportunity, came a lot of letting go. Valentina would have to step down from two high-powered Student Representative positions and put in her resignation as a law clerk at Garrigues, one of Colombia’s top law firms.

“I remember the day I left my computer with HR, I regretted it almost immediately,” she said of her resignation from Garrigues. “I walked out and was like, ‘Oh, I did this. Maybe I'm letting go of one of the best opportunities I could have.’”

On the outside, Valentina had everything going for her: strong grades, an impressive career path, and a supportive group of family and friends. Still, a nagging feeling kept telling her it wasn’t time to settle yet. It was with this awareness that Valentina ultimately made the choice to attend UC Law, opting out of life as usual for a chance to explore beyond the “checklist.”

“I have been checking off a checklist since I was little,” she said. “And I did it. I got the degree, I got the job, I was happy. But at the same time, I was starting to realize that I was just checking things off without any real purpose.” 

Not uncommon for many law students, Valentina was also starting to experience higher levels of stress from the demands of her own career ambitions, and with it—burnout. Taking a year off from her current roles, she thought, might come with the added benefit of a mental health break.

Upon her arrival at UC, Valentina, who turned 22 this year, immediately latched onto the vibrant campus life. Along with making friends and experiencing student life in a new country, the slower pace of life gave her time to soak in more of the little things. Gradually, she found herself developing greater contentment and mental wellness at UC Law.

Valentina Mora (LLM, ‘22)

“This opportunity has helped me be a student again,” she said. “I got to have a true college experience, like going to the gym, or meeting new friends, or going out to see the Reds. Little things I never had.”

As she regained her footing and re-discovered work-life balance as a student, she was also finding enjoyment in the law school coursework and experiential learning opportunities available to LLM students,” she said.

“UC has everything you could want. If you want to work, you can work. If you want to be involved in groups or communities, you can. If you want to have a connection with a professor, they are open to it,” she said. Plus, you have amazing people here at UC Law. They come from really different backgrounds all over the world, and you can learn something new every day. That is something I am grateful for.”

“The LLM was an amazing year of my life, I grew as a person. It has been one of the best decisions I have ever made."

Valentina Mora

Up until this point, Valentina had dutifully been pursuing a path in corporate law and business litigation, a type of law she truly loved. But one course at UC changed all of that. The Mental Health Law class, offered through The Glenn M. Weaver Institute of Law and Psychiatry Fellowship program, allowed Valentina to gain experience with psychiatric issues as practiced in a legal setting. Taught with both law and medical students in the class, the course material was totally new to her and struck a meaningful chord. It was this class that inspired her to pursue opportunities in public interest law, a career field she had not fully considered before coming to UC.

“There is a stigma surrounding mental health issues, and that really upsets me,” she said. “I want to do work where I’m able to look at a person, eye to eye, and say, ‘I understand you and I can try to help you, no matter their differences."

"I want to do work where I’m able to look at a person, eye to eye, and say, ‘I understand you and I can try to help you, no matter their differences."

- Valentina Mora -

Valentina Mora (LLM, ‘22)

After graduating from the LLM program, she decided to apply for a year-long Optional Practical Training (OPT) position with the private law firm, McKinney and Namei, a trusted Cincinnati Law Firm specializing in Immigration Law. Pursuing this new opportunity felt more intrinsically aligned with her values than ever before.

“Something has changed in me—being on this side [public interest] of the law,” she said. “If you are not doing something that you love, you are not doing your best. I'm just trying to follow that path, where I am helping others and I'm happy.”

Recently, Valentina boarded a flight back to Cincinnati after celebrating her graduation with family and friends back home. But this time, the flight was filled with hope and anticipation for the work awaiting her at McKinney and Namei.

Today, a typical day for Valentina starts with a short bus ride to downtown Cincinnati for work, followed by a day of meetings with asylum seekers and immigrants fearing deportation, and usually wraps by 4 PM. This schedule comes with newfound leisure time, often spent reading at her favorite local coffee shop, running errands, or meeting up with friends, some whom she refers to as her “adoptive family.” This is in stark contrast to the early wake-ups and late nights she had back home that left little time to enjoy a meal or hangout with friends.

“Staying at the office every night until 9:00 PM, that’s not the life I want,” she said. “I'm in a place that allows me to work, help people, and at the same time have a life.”

Before attending UC Law’s LLM program, others might have looked at Valentina as the law student who had everything going for her. But letting go of the path she thought she was supposed to take led her to a life filled with purpose, rather than mere accolades.

“You don't have to be the best in everything. You don't have to be participating in everything just to check boxes,” she said. “You have to do what makes you happy, and actually build the life you want.”

“The LLM was an amazing year of my life, I grew as a person,” she continued. “This experience has helped me a lot with myself. It has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

Valentina Mora (LLM, ‘22)

Want to learn more about our students and their journey to (and through) law school? Read more stories on the "Meet Our Students" page. See yourself at Cincinnati Law!   

Author: Katie Bachmeyer

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