The day Gov. Rick Scott signed the tuition waiver program into law that drops out-of-state college tuition fees for honorably discharged veterans, Monique Wilson (2L) won her fight. She also received the Governor’s Veterans Service Award.
Wilson is a 33-year-old law student and Iraq War veteran from New Jersey with ambitions of entering the world of criminal law as a prosecutor. Right now, she’s focused on helping out other veterans and changing the face of law.
Over the past year, she’s done just that.
Wilson has been a key player in groups of UF students who traveled to Tallahassee to lobby for the passage of the veterans tuition-waiver bill. Although out-of-state tuition did not deter Wilson from going to law school in Florida, she knew getting this bill passed was important to other veterans who might not have had the financial support from family that she did. She remembers watching Scott sign the bill in March, she said, and feeling excited about what Florida had accomplished.
“It didn’t so much help me, but the fact that it will make (attending college) easier for the next veteran who comes is just outstanding,” Wilson said. “I think it will bring a lot more veterans to UF and Florida in general, so I’m happy.”
Wilson is an example of “all the finest qualities” student veterans bring to the University of Florida, said John Gebhardt, veteran advocate at UF and vice president of the Florida Association of Veterans Education Specialists.
“Mature, disciplined, dedicated and a Florida law student, (Monique) found time to visit with Florida Legislators to educate them on the merits of in-state tuition for all veterans,” Gebhardt said. “Monique paid out-ofstate tuition and dedicated her time and talent to assist future student veterans, as the law would not apply to her former payments — a fine position of service to her former comrades in arms, many who will attend UF in the future.”
Going to UF Law was important for Wilson, a New Jersey resident, because her parents had recently moved to Ormond Beach. Being close to them was a priority, and her family was willing to help with the out-ofstate tuition costs.
“I feel like I’m lucky, both as a veteran and a black law student,” Wilson said. “I think that it’s important in that role to give back to the community if you want to change the face of the law school or the law field in general.”
Wilson has put her aspirations into practice. Administrators say the Black Law Students Association, which Wilson led as president, stood out as one of the law school’s strongest student organizations over the past year. Not only has she encouraged all students to join the organization, regardless of race, she’s seen the group through an outstanding year of accomplishments.
BLSA was named regional chapter of the year for the southern region for a second consecutive year — and placed first runner-up for national chapter of the year.
Members excelled in competitions, too. At regionals, BLSA’s mock trial team finished second place overall, and another mock trial team made the quarterfinals in their competition. The BLSA moot court team finished in third place and won an award for best brief.
BLSA brought UF Law onto the national stage with its strong performance in the national mock trial, moot court and international negotiations competitions. All three teams placed in the top four at their respective events.
Wilson said she’s also watched the group grow in the area of community service, with service activities benefiting Habitat for Humanity, St. Francis House, Haile’s Angels Pet Rescue and others. BLSA has also developed a long-term volunteer program with the Alachua County Teen Court.
“We’re not the most heavily funded organization,” Wilson said. “When I came into the group there was like $100 or something in our bank account.”
To open doors, including competing for national chapter of the year, Wilson said she’s had to make sacrifices. She paid out-of-pocket to attend the Congressional Black Caucus Week, a networking event in Washington, D.C.; for a leader’s retreat at the University of South Carolina; and for the regional and national BLSA conventions.
Wilson, who left the Army as a sergeant, is looking forward to serving as a Veteran’s Advocate intern at the Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida with her extra time this summer.
“When I saw I would get the opportunity to use my legal education to help veterans that need it, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass,” Wilson said, while also considering her goal of becoming a criminal prosecutor.
In Wilson, Gebhardt said, UF Law “has a fine representative of all that a truly good lawyer can be in service to fellow man.”