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My Law School Story: Jessica Rodenhiser, Fearless Pursuit of Equality

Growing up in a diverse, low-income city, Jessica Rodenhiser ’18 saw firsthand how economic and race-related factors inhibited access to education, voting, and other civic functions. Her understanding and appreciation for these challenges only deepened when she entered college and discovered her classmates were primarily white and upper-middle class. After graduation, she was determined to explore solutions to inequality by expanding her knowledge of the legal landscape. Her next step: New England Law.

She quickly found a community of classmates and collaborators who shared her interests—and her passion for success. “It was like a family,” she said. “My friends were active inside and outside of class, and were genuinely supportive of each other.” But just as she was settling into the community and getting a handle on the workload, Rodenhiser’s law school experience took a frightening turn.

She began to feel ill, which she attributed to end-of-semester stress. However, when she went to the hospital for a checkup, she was rushed to the ICU. “I was prescribed antibiotics to combat the sickness I was feeling, but it turned out that I actually had undiagnosed Type 1 diabetes,” she explained. “My heart actually stopped for a while.”

After recuperating in the hospital for several days, she was forced to make a tough decision. Not only was she facing a return to law school but also the challenges of living with a chronic condition—one that many people spend years learning to manage. Her friends, family, and doctors were concerned about the stress that law school could impose on her health. “I was determined to finish,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘Two weeks ago I could have been dead.’ I couldn’t give up on the opportunity to live.” She returned to New England Law within the month.

Back on campus, Rodenhiser narrowed her interest to a specific legal area: immigration law. She was accepted as an intern to the highly selective immigration unit at Greater Boston Legal Services. Her work there hit close to home. “It reminded me of the people I grew up alongside, many of whom were dealing with similar issues,” she said.

While at Greater Boston Legal Services, Rodenhiser learned about a position in the United States Department of Justice Honors Program. The prestigious program only accepts a hundred candidates annually from among thousands of applicants. With her typical sense of determination, she decided to go for it. “I received an email in the middle of one of my classes, offering me the position in the Los Angeles immigration court,” she said. “It was incredibly affirming to see my hard work pay off.”

As for what’s next? “My goal is to complete the Honors Program in LA, and then pass the Texas bar so I can work on the border pro bono,” said Rodenhiser. “My calling is to help those who need it most, and in immigration law, the border represents the front lines.”

Explore pro bono opportunities at New England Law.