Updated: Feb 22, 2020
"Don’t waste time worrying about things you can’t control anyway. Focus more on your goals and how to get there than on the problems you are facing. Face your fears!"
Milan Smith has a BA in Political Science, a Master of Public Administration, and she's currently pursuing her JD at UCLA with a bright future ahead as a lawyer. She's proud of going from a small girl living on an island in the Caribbean to a JD candidate at one of the nation's top law schools. We spoke to her about her path, her passions, and what's coming next.
Milan enjoys playing piano, dancing, weightlifting, and being in big, happy social settings. Her pet peeves are judgmental people, and she eats Nerds candy when she's stressed. She has roots in the Caribbean where she grew up with her parents as an only child.
"I lived in the Caribbean from age eight to age fifteen, and coming back to the states I really had a difficult time transitioning and getting used to everything. My grades suffered and I really felt behind academically and socially. It took me awhile to find the motivation within myself to push harder and harder, to get the grades I needed, to get a job to help support myself in college, etc. I was fortunate to have a full-ride scholarship in undergrad, but in order to afford my living expenses, I worked and interned for about 30 hours a week during my four years in undergrad. It was definitely a challenge to balance work, internships and school without letting my grades suffer."
“Be your very best authentic self, and never settle for average.”
She's grateful for her family and academic/professional support she received along the way. "I was fortunate to have incredible support systems both academically and professionally. I had a ton of great professors that encouraged me, worked with me on my independent research and were happy to write my recommendations when I went on to get my Master's. I also had an amazing job at my law firm Loeb & Loeb and worked on an amazing team and with amazing attorneys. By the time I left for law school, they felt like family."
Who were your personal heroes as a child, or today?
Growing up, it was definitely my dad. He always pushed me to be my best, to think bigger, to not be average and to value discipline. To this day I have the word “Discipline” written on my bedroom mirror with dry erase marker, to remind myself of this principle he taught me. It’s been on my mirror for years. I would say presently, Michelle Obama. Education has always been such an important aspect for me. To me it is my keys to the kingdom - the thing I worked for that can’t be taken away. Michelle always advocates for women focusing on their education first, getting that seat on the table, and being exceptional and purposeful.
What does winning look like to you?
Living a purposeful life, having a strong sense of self, a strong foundation in God and a profession that touches more lives than just my own.
Milan wants to make an impact as an advocate for her community and in helping others get where they want to be. This drive to help others comes partially from her own experiences. "I’ve had a ton of hurdles along the way and in many of them I did not see the purpose in the moment, but I see purpose now. I am able to relate to so many people and experiences, or at least be more able to empathize with different struggles that can be encountered in the journey of personal growth.
To young Black people pursuing their dreams, she'd give impactful advice: "Life is incredibly short so make sure you make time to let the people you love know that you love. Don’t waste time worrying about things you can’t control anyway. Focus more on your goals and how to get there than on the problems you are facing. Face your fears!"
Given your experience and knowledge, what would be helpful for young Black people to know if they want to pursue your career?
Ask for help! There are so many Black professionals and academics that want to see our community succeed, and all you need to do is ask. Don’t let money or your environment makes you feel like you can’t have certain opportunities. It may be more challenging, but there are a ton of resources. If you don’t know what they are - again - ask for help!
What are some key skills potential JDs should acquire?
Get comfortable networking and asking questions. Remind yourself that you belong in high level-spaces. Time management, dependability, and work ethic go such a long way. Remember to smile and be kind to others.
What are some things young people can be doing to now (middle school, high school, college) which will help them succeed?
Study and put in the effort. Be aware of your bad academic habits early so you can fix them now so your future self with thank you. Go to office hours and invest in 2-3 relationships with professors. Those professors will help push you to succeed and you will need them for recommendations later. Stay true to your passions and values and let them guide your choices. Ask for help! If you don’t understand something, ask a fellow student for help, ask a professor to explain, or ask a professional, whose job you want, how they got there. Be a resource to others as well. People will remember what you do for them, so support others because you never know the rooms they can help you get into. Everyone’s different, but for me personally, I was my biggest barrier to success. I thought I was average because all I did was average. I was a B/C student and didn’t think I could be anything great. Through a course of various experiences I realized I didn’t want to be anything less than great, so I rejected that narrative and pushed myself harder than I ever did. I ended up graduating with my master’s degree with all A’s and in the top 5% of my class. You’d be surprised at how much unused potential you have, so just try to push yourself a little harder every day.
What are some of the mistakes you made entering in career or unnecessary obstacles faced which can be avoided?
I wasted a lot of time worrying. Will I get the job? Will I be accepted? Will I get an A? Will they like me? I wish I redirected that energy into something more meaningful because I spent a lot of time stressing over things I couldn’t even remember a couple months later. I also overextended myself a lot. I felt like I had to say yes to everything, be in every room, meet every person.
We can't wait to see where Milan goes in the future. She's a winner with a bright horizon that's informed and guided by her beliefs:
"Don’t limit yourself based on your current outputs. Where you are currently does not place a limit on where you are going. Another belief is to not be too hard on yourself. One thing I’ve really learned this past year is the importance of doing things just because I enjoy them; not everything needs to be about a grade, about making money, about being successful. It’s important to have things in your life that you do just because they make you happy. Lastly, I believe it is so important to go with the flow. Even if you try your hardest, you can’t control everything so be okay with letting life to teach you lessons along the way.