Melissa Medhat Mikail

Cambridge, MA

Business & Corporate Law
Tell us why did you decide to be a lawyer?
My pursuit in a career in law had its genesis in a dream my late father envisioned for me. Growing up, I came to see the law as the language that governs our lives a language that I wanted to master.

I was born to immigrant parents who fled religious persecution in Egypt, in diligent pursuit of an elusive American dream. When I was seven, my father was diagnosed with a rare disease called Guillain Barré syndrome. For the next two years, my mother worked, cared for, and financially supported three young children, while managing to stand by my father’s bedside, trying to give him whatever strength she had remaining. Unable to grieve, my mother immediately returned to work following my father’s death, where her accent disqualified her from promotions, and as an immigrant and woman of color she faced discrimination in the work force. Instead of offering her support, friends advised her to take us to Egypt, warning her of the difficulty of being a single mother of three in this country. We grew up in unrelenting poverty, only worrying about the immediate day’s troubles – for we knew not what tomorrow would bring.

In the midst of this, my mother taught me the value of education, persistence, and work ethic and her struggle as a single parent became a source of strength and inspiration for me to succeed. I pursued a career in law – a pursuit that had its genesis in a dream my late father envisioned for me. When I was rejected from my top choice for college, I mustered up all the strength I could to make the most of what I had. I commuted to UC Riverside while working two part-time jobs, enrolling in above-average units each semester, and supporting my family as my grandmother underwent chemotherapy. Despite this I graduated Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, and was admitted to my dream law school, despite many including advisors that discouraged me from “getting my hopes up.” My college years taught me one of the most valuable lessons of life: strength is made perfect during weakness.

My acceptance to Harvard Law School has been the greatest reward through all of my adversities. Growing up, I came to see the law as the language that governs our lives, but when I arrived at this place I once considered mythical, I didn’t feel like I knew the language around me. It struck me, not so much as a language, but as a reminder of the world I come from. It seemed as though others were born into this language — it was spoken at the dinner table and on the way to school. Their language was alien to me and my reality was alien to them. I accepted that I was there to learn their language with fluency, to master it. During my second year of law school, I realized that my history, my education, and my story provide me, not only with a seat at the table, but with an elevated one in which I have the capacity to bring my immigrant single mother, my Coptic community, my struggles, and my experiences—these are the languages I speak with fluency. I have an opportunity, and perhaps an obligation, to teach my language. I am inspired by the bravery and courage of those who came before me, who enshrined values of fairness within enduring principles, and it behooves me to move that legacy forward. Just as countless people carried me on their shoulders to get to this very point in my life, so too will I serve as a stepping stool for those who equally deserve this privilege: the privilege to graduate from Harvard Law School.
English, Native
Arabic, Native