Alumni Spotlight – Mike Shammas (Class of ’09)

mike-shammas-apa-most-studious
Mike along with Chelsea Viscardi in their Senior Superlative photo

Mike earned the senior superlative at Parrott of “Most Studious.”  He was Salutatorian of the Class of 2009, a member of the Quiz Bowl team, and an active volunteer in his community.  Mike spent a lot of time working with the Boys and Girls Club and a variety of other charities.  He traveled with SERV to Washington, DC and worked with the National Coalition for the Homeless.  Mike has always had an interest in the political process and as a student at Parrott, served as a North Carolina state page.  After leaving Parrott, Mike headed to Duke, where he graduated summa cum laude in 2013 with a degree in political science.

Mike continued to experience much academic success, graduating cum laude from Harvard Law School in 2016.  Upon graduating, he won the Dean’s Award for Community Leadership for his work serving as the 2015-2016 editor-in-chief of the Harvard Law Record, the oldest law school newspaper in the United States.  Mike won the National Law Review Writing Competition in April 2016 (Read his essay here).

Mike is currently working as a litigator at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP in New York City, where he takes on criminal and civil cases.  He also writes regularly for publications like the Huffington Post and The Good Men Project.  We asked him a few questions about his experience at Parrott and Mike shared the following with us:

Tell us about a memorable Parrott Academy experience or experiences.

I fondly remember hiding behind corners in the hallway with my twin brother, Ronnie, warily peeking forward in anxious attempts to evade Mr. Pollock’s keen gaze as we stubbornly refused to tuck our shirt tails in!

How did your Parrott Academy experience prepare you for your future endeavors?

Parrott was so academically challenging, but definitely in a good way. Parrott offered courses like AP U.S. History, taught by awesome teachers like Ms. Barrow, which sparked interests I already had but that I hadn’t had the opportunity to explore in such detail. It also was full of hardworking, enthusiastic teachers like Ms. Leighton who helped me improve in topics like statistics which, admittedly, were initially a bit of a struggle.

Tell us about one of your favorite teachers.

I took two English courses with Mrs. Kennedy my junior and senior years and the reading and writing skills she instilled have proven so helpful since high school. Today, when I write legal briefs, Ms. Kennedy’s admonition to cut extra words and vary sentence structure are so relevant. Stumbling upon Mrs. Kennedy’s classes at Parrot have fundamentally changed my life for the better, and (hopefully) my clients’ lives as I write briefs, motions, and memos on their behalf using the writing lessons Mrs. Kennedy taught me a few years ago.

What advice would you offer to current juniors and seniors? 

Keep an open heart and an open mind as you go through life. Treat everyone with the respect they deserve due to the simple fact that they’re human. Most of our problems as a country, as humans, can be attributed to a failure of either empathy or intellectual humility or both. None of us has all the answers. No fellow human life is so flawed as to be worthy of mistreatment. Kindness opens doors that ambition alone does not and cannot.

What advice would you offer to recent Parrott alumni?

Keep in touch with your friends from school! It’s too easy to lose touch. And if you’re thinking of moving North, don’t underestimate how much you’ll miss Bojangles.

Help us understand your current position.

I’m a first-year associate at a law firm. Before that, I did a lot of criminal defense appellate-level work at a public defense organization as well as asylum work when I was studying at Harvamike-shammas-harvard-gradrd Law. I still work on pro bono criminal matters, though the majority of my work involves civil litigation.

Regarding criminal law, it’s easy to see why I’m fascinated with it: Few areas of public policy are as fraught with impassioned disagreement as criminal justice. There tend to be two types of criminal lawyers: Those who believe, strongly, in punishment, and bleeding hearts who believe in the fallibility of humans but also in our never-ending capacity for redemption. Both types of lawyers are necessary and complimentary. I tend to identify more closely with the latter, but I understand and empathize with the impulses that animate the former group.

What life goals have you accomplished and what do you still hope to accomplish.

My life goals have changed since I’ve grown older. There was a time when I thought that achieving certain things would bring happiness. Now I realize that happiness comes from within (cliché, I know) and that decking out one’s resume can only bring a certain amount of peace — and, sometimes, brings the opposite of peace.

So at the ripe old age of 25, my main life goal now is to live life. And to get better at keeping in touch with old friends at Parrott!

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