Athelia Graham, ’19, was constantly interacting with immigrants throughout her childhood due to her father’s position as the Director of the English Language Center at Brigham Young University and as a linguistics professor.
“[My dad] was heavily involved in helping immigrants learn English, so we had many people come to our house for dinner,” Graham said. “We always had someone living with us.”
Graham was inspired to study language after growing up in this environment. She received a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Spanish. She then taught English as a second language at public schools in Washington D.C. which continued her interaction with many U.S. immigrants.
A fascination with the legal system coupled with a frustration with the education system drove Graham to consider law school. Her goal was to work in policy and education and have a positive impact on immigration. Prior to coming to BYU Law, she did not know much about immigration law, but after learning from distinguished faculty who specialize on the subject and participating in opportunities through the Law School, Graham developed a strong foundation in immigration law.
Graham particularly enjoyed her involvement with the BYU Law Community Legal Clinic where students provide free legal assistance to people in need on immigration issues, housing, contracts, and other legal needs. One particular asylum case with a family who fled Venezuela to escape persecution within their country was very impactful for Graham.
“It was a really powerful experience to hear her story because that’s an important part of the asylum process… Working at the clinic and being able to help people in a very hands on way solidified my desire to work in immigration law,” Graham said.
Volunteering at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, with other students from the law school was another poignant experience for Graham.
“You are seeing people who have these stories—and they’re being very vulnerable sharing with you really difficult and sacred parts of their lives,” Graham said. “It’s really beautiful, powerful, and life-changing.”
Graham stated that receiving more education is powerful and gives individuals the potential to do more good.
“The beauty of any type of additional education we get is empowering and allows us to share [it] and to help build people to achieve things they may not be able to do on their own,” Graham said.