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Life After LEAD: Matthew R. Williams

One of our former LEAD Scholars sends an update.
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I WALK TO WORK SOMETIMES. IT’S JUST ONE OF THOSE RITUALS. It gives me time to think, to remember where I am coming from and where I am heading.

The kid from the neighborhood can seem so distant in a sea of suits, expensive watches, long hours, and ambition that is too often unbridled and unfocused. As a lawyer, I spend my days (and often my nights) poring over the documents governing vast organizations—searching for minutiae that may mean nothing or everything for their fortunes, drafting and redrafting agreements that will form the basis of the merger, and helping counsel the people pulling the strings of industry and commerce.

If you do not choose to step outside that life, in time, you may find that you cannot. A world of billion-dollar deals, constant demands, and 300-page contracts is a view from the 40th floor of a Manhattan skyscraper. Engrossing, but not quite real.

What is real is the distance between who you were and who you might be. When you arrive at college, you are so wrapped up in finding who you are, the other sides of the journey can fade. The “now” replaces the “then” and the “next”—unless you are lucky, and I was lucky. At U-M and through LEAD especially, I had so many people who nudged me to turn the dreams of the past into the achievements of the future.

I, just some kid, got to go to one of the best law schools in the country, Michigan, and with a full ride. I spent my days learning from the best and my nights teaching the brightest and standing up for the helpless. After graduation, I joined a respected firm as a corporate lawyer. It was like arriving in a new world, unattainable a few years ago.

My job, though, is not especially important to me. Whatever we consider success is, in the long astronomical perspective, insignificant. It is the scattered dreams of the kids from every neighborhood that matter. They carry us forward and bind us together.

The truth is being a corporate lawyer is a job more often chosen for practicality and profitability than passion. Yes, I often enjoy it, but it is simply a job. Who knows what I’ll be in 10 years or even just one year? On my best days, though, I get to be an attorney, which means standing in someone’s place. The world needs attorneys. We need people who speak for the voiceless, who fight for lost causes—people who try to turn who we were into what we can be.

Wherever I go next and whatever I do, if I practice for one year or one hundred, if I get to be a part of that, to do what LEAD did for me, it will have been worth doing.


The LEAD Scholars program provides scholarships to Black, Latino, and Native American students who have been accepted into U-M. Visit umalumni.com/LEAD to learn how you can support the program and, thus, help create a more diverse campus.

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