Commencement Speaker Heads to the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps

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Meredith Shea

Meredith Shea, J.D. '20

Meredith Shea revels in challenges, from polo grounds to higher education.

This year’s chosen spring commencement speaker for the class of 2020 (ceremony now postponed until December 2020), came to Miami Law because it was one of the few schools that would let the University of Pennsylvania grad pursue a master’s degree from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University at the same time as her J.D. law studies in Miami.

Shea graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and went to work at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C. There she decided to pursue dual degrees in international diplomacy and law. Miami Law’s offerings and faculty in the area and flexibility in partnering with The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy led to her splitting time between Miami and Boston. It was at Fletcher that she met an influential mentor, Admiral James Stavridis, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and a retired four-star admiral; she would be named an Admiral James Stavridis Scholar.

The Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, native spent the next four years commuting up and down the Atlantic corridor to attend classes, managing to excel at both venues. As well as logistical challenges, she endured some personal highs and lows: her father began what proved to be a successful battle with cancer during her 1L year, she married her best friend of ten years, and they adopted a Hurricane Maria survivor dog from Puerto Rico named Dexter (not after the serial killer).

The Dean's Merit Scholar has determination and moxie baked into her DNA.

"I've always engaged in and thrived in masculine and competitive environments," she says. "At Penn, I walked on as a coxswain for the heavyweight men's rowing team. I had never seen the sport before, but committed to two-a-days and dedicated every school break to practicing so that I could represent Penn at Sprints.

"As a woman and as the coxswain, there were all kinds of gender and leadership dynamics that challenged me. I had to lead on the water as a total novice even though the men were world-class rowers from top programs," she says. "There were times I found myself toe-to-toe with an angry rower who was 14 inches taller, 100-pounds heavier, and several decibels louder. I had to be comfortable waiting for him to finish, convincing him that he was wrong, and then finding a way to move forward."

Shea brought that same kind of scrappy and dogged perseverance to Miami Law, as the first woman to helm the Miami Law Military and National Security Law Society and as part of the international criminal court moot team where Shea’s team placed first in the United States and #13 at The Hague’s international rounds that hosted 70 global teams. Arguing as government counsel, Shea confronted unsettled legal questions surrounding crimes of aggression, responsibility to protect, and international evidence. Shea also credits her experience with the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, under Professor Mary Anne Franks, as crucial to her educational journey.

Franks so impressed Shea that the law student enrolled in all of Franks' courses, and became her research assistant. Not surprisingly, the two have many similarities.

"I've played in men's polo games; I'm a martial artist, I've worked on projects for contingency environments in the Middle East -- each presented unique challenges and new dynamics to navigate: as a woman, an athlete, a professional, and/or as an American," Shea says. "I think some of this gritty attitude comes from having attended an all-girls school from kindergarten through 12th grade -- The Agnes Irwin School. It was just normal to see women in leadership positions--every leadership position-- and to go for it."

Shea can't help but tie many of her lessons in life to a long engagement with the equine set. Starting with rodeo riding, she grew into playing polo and working with therapy horses.

"Stoicism was vital for my success, so I learned a lot about self-care behind the scenes, which is where my love of horses and animals has been so important," she says. "Horses keep you honest: they feel your voice and your energy -- they mirror you by meeting your calm with quiet and your ferocity with even greater strength. They're incredible athletes and healers."

Like most of her graduating class, Shea is studying for the Bar and then looking forward to starting a legal career based in international and national security law. Shea has always been drawn to international Rule of Law initiatives and the Judge Advocate General's Corps -- Navy and Army—have accepted Shea to join their services.

"I have learned so much about myself and my own strength; I am forever indebted to Miami Law for having enhanced my ability to think critically, especially to frame issues, and to drive to conclusions. But also, I have met some fantastic friends, mentors, and colleagues who supported me at every stage. Reflecting on this ride has been meaningful, so thank you for the opportunity to do so," she says.