Posted: November 9th, 2020
Karen Surian’s (JD ’23) personal experiences with immigration law inspire her and drive her to enact change in the legal world on behalf of minorities and women.
Where do you call home?
Where did you study for your undergraduate degree?
Mount Holyoke College
What year will you graduate from Wake Forest Law?
Describe any experiences prior to law school that influenced your decision to go to law school. Why did it inspire you?
I graduated college seven years ago from an all-women’s liberal arts college. Throughout my post-graduate career, I gained extensive professional experience in the financial, entertainment, marketing, and start-up sectors. I always gravitated towards law but the time was not right until a couple of years ago when I was able to dedicate my time and efforts to properly study for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and to prepare my applications. At that time, I was also able to gain U.S. citizenship through naturalization. My own immigration process serves as a source of inspiration because I was able to experience first-hand the power that attorneys have on their clients’ lives.
Without a doubt though, my father has been my greatest source of inspiration and influence in pursuing a career in law. My father is a practicing attorney in Mexico and he has always believed in my potential to be an influential agent of change. When I left Mexico over 10 years ago to pursue college in the U.S., my father and I knew that my academic goals in this country went beyond college. I wanted to become an attorney in the U.S. so I could serve as a source of representation to the Latinx community. Resilience, hard work, and a constant hunger for equality are what inspire me to become someone that can mentor and help others in the ways that I was unable to be mentored or helped.
Why did you decide to attend Wake Forest Law?
Wake Forest offered me a very generous scholarship package that made me feel valued and wanted as a student. The small class size and professor-to-student ratio also influenced my decision. After graduating from a small, all-women’s liberal arts institution, I knew that I needed a special academic setting that helped me thrive in graduate school. I also value the sense of community that Wake Forest offers and the open communication platforms that allow the students to become part of the most important conversations.
Describe the Wake Forest community. Provide specific examples if possible.
The best way that I can describe the community at Wake Forest is by imagining that you are finally able to pick the family members you always wanted. You are surrounded by people that are invested in your success and want to see you achieve your goals healthily and positively. My upperclassmen mentors, professors, and deans have given me the platform to express myself, ask for help, and even create genuine friendships. My upperclassmen mentors check on me frequently and guide me through the finish line. My professors are responsive and open to listening whenever I need to chat. The classmates that I have gotten close with are supportive and willing to engage in profound conversations. Dean Huff has been one of the most helpful resources. He is able to fit me into his tight schedule and proactively find resources for help and encouragement. The staff in the financial aid office is always responsive and everyone seems to enjoy their role at the law school.
What is your most memorable experience during law school (thus far)? What makes it so memorable?
My most memorable experience happened when I was leaving the library after a long day of studying. I was walking to the parking lot and the sunset was beautiful. I paused for a moment and recognized the immense privilege that I had standing in that place at that moment. The campus looked beautiful, people were jogging around and, for a moment, everything was calm. It was a reminder to acknowledge how lucky I was to be able to pursue a legal education at such a prestigious institution despite the current state of the world. It reminded me that all the sleepless nights and long days are something to be grateful for and not something to complain about. That evening reminded me that all my hard work would pay off one day and that every sunset is one sunset less before I cross the finish line.
Describe any experiences that prepared you and/or made you excited to attend law school.
My immigration story, along with my professional and personal experiences, shaped my unbreakable level of resilience. I have lived through so many challenges in regards to securing legal citizenship and making sure that I can find a place in this country – that the idea of being able to help others while bringing cultural representation to the practice of law is what keeps me excited. I also keep in touch with my friends from undergrad that have pursued a career in law and I see that, in very different ways, they are holistically happy with their careers and with their lives. I am excited to conquer my last academic challenge and create a space in areas where I would not normally be able to without a law degree. I am also looking forward to creating long-lasting relationships that will make this experience memorable.
What are you involved in outside the classroom (i.e. student organizations, pro bono project, intramural sports, etc.?) How does this add value to your overall law school experience?
I am the 1L representative for the Latino Law Student Association (LLSA) and a COVID-19 consultant for the THRIVE office. I recently processed two I-130 applications for family reunification and I have signed up for several pro bono clinics. I enjoy attending the Wake Forest Intellectual Property Association (WIPSA )meetings and the Women In Law group. These organizations and roles add value to my experience because it allows me to see what it is like to be a practicing attorney and to foster relationships with my peers. It is very important for me to feel welcomed and to find a community that values my opinion and experience.
Do you have a faculty mentor? If so, who and why? How does it add value to your student experience?
I don’t have a formal faculty mentor yet. Nonetheless, I have gotten close to a few professors and with Dean Huff. Without this strong support system, I would not be writing this today. Law school was a culture shock that has only been conquerable through the support, guidance, and genuine care of people like Professors Taylor, Morath, Lucas, and Ashe-Card.
What do you do for fun in Winston-Salem when you aren’t studying?
I have not had time to explore Winston-Salem as much as I would like because I am in the process of building a house. My idea of fun currently revolves around construction materials, tile, and flooring, and hardware stores. I want to explore the city’s open spaces such as Reynolda Village, the Farmers Market on the weekends, and the parks near downtown.
Where do you want your law degree to take you?
I want to become a cultural ambassador for all underrepresented minorities, particularly women. I want to be in a position where I can mentor, assist, and help in ways that I did not have access to. I would like to use my financial and corporate background as well as my multilingual skills to become an agent of change. I want to be able to inspire other non-traditional students and demonstrate that it is always a good time to pursue your goals. Most importantly, I want to ensure that my law degree provides me with the tools to live a successful and happy life where I am able to continue to grow holistically.