Michelle DeVos with high school students
Michelle DeVos's favorite thing may be proving people wrong: from her former principals and teachers who doubted her ability to graduate from high school to the bullies throughout her life who thought they’d push her to suicide and beat her down.
The 24-year-old lawyer found her voice and hasn't stopped speaking her truth since. "My past does not define me nor limit me," she tells a roomful of high school students from Coral Gables High School. Neither does Asperger syndrome, a neurobiological disorder on the autism spectrum characterized by social communication and interaction difficulties.
The Miami Law cum laude J.D. /LL.M. in Entertainment, Arts and Sports '18 graduate has silenced the skeptics and haters.
While completing her second post-graduate degree, this time an LL.M. in Taxation, she is a part of Miami Law's STREET Law, the educational, legal outreach program that trains current law students to teach law at schools throughout Miami-Dade County. In the STREET Law program, she has been giving anti-bullying presentations throughout all the schools that participate in the program.
She opens her talk with a favorite quote from the author Melanie Moushigian Koulouris: "Everyone has a story to tell, a lesson to teach, and wisdom to share. Life is a beautiful masterpiece bound together by your experiences. Open up and share your story; become an inspiration to others. You can make a difference because you matter. You were created with purpose. Live your life with intention, go out there and make a difference by being the difference."
A Florida Atlantic University graduate with a degree in finance, DeVos completed her first year of law school at Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad Law School before transferring to Miami. At Miami Law, she achieved the highest GPA in the LL.M. program, made the Dean's List, and was awarded the CALI Award for Excellence in Nonprofit Organizations and Social Enterprises.
"She is exceptional," says Jessi Tamayo, director of STREET Law. "She is at the top of her class in law school and has interviewed with Greenberg/Traurig and Holland and Knight. She is someone who never expected to graduate from high school because of the bullying she endured due to her Asperger’s."
DeVos has been a criminal procedure teaching assistant at Miami Law, and a legal intern at the Broward State Attorney's Office and at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts for Miami-Dade County.
DeVos says it is nice to earn a paycheck, but finds it priceless when a student comes up and thanks her for having the courage to share her story. “Once I graduate from law school, I hope to continue doing my anti-bullying presentations even when I am in the work force because it is important to continue to be a positive role model for the students and to bring awareness to an issue that is often neglected,” she says.
“While my academic achievements may be impressive, my biggest accomplishment has come from all the work I’ve done in the STREET Law program, where, I found my voice and built up the courage to share my story with the students,” she says. “My main message is to have them realize that they are not alone and that it is okay to open up; it initiates a healing process where they are able to realize that it not their fault for what they are or will be going through. It should not limit what they want to pursue in the future.”
Students often write to DeVos sharing their stories or offering encouragement and support. “What I took out of the speech is no matter what life throws at you, you can overcome the obstacles and become anything you want,” texted Coral Gables High School student Kayla Martinez. “Thank you! You are a really big inspiration to me; you show me that no matter what, I can do it.”