Alumni Profile: Vee Leonard

Published: February 9th, 2009

Category: News

Vee Leonard (JD 99) didn’t travel down the path most would call a typical road to law school. She got off the highway and waited a bit before getting back on.

At the age of 37, Leonard went back to school to finish her bachelor’s degree at the University of Central Florida. She got a degree in legal studies and said her professor continuously tried to get her to attend law school.

“I had no plans to go to law school,” said Leonard, who never had aspirations as a child to be a lawyer. “But while I was at UCF, most of my professors asked me, ‘are you going to law school?’ and I told them that I was just here for that little piece of paper.”

That would soon change. After working as a paralegal for a year or so, one of her professors called and told her it was time for her to apply to law school. And she did.

“I liked learning; it is just very stimulating,” said Leonard, who is general counsel at Florida Gulf Coast University. “Some people say (law school) is the worst three years of their life, but for me it wasn’t. I just loved it.”

During law school, she said that she never really got into the whole ‘Gator thing.’ She said she was there to get a law degree and that was her priority.

“It was strenuous, I wouldn’t say it was hard, but it was a lot of work,” said Leonard about the level of difficulty of law school. “I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. It was a great three years.”

Nothing was more difficult, though, than the trials and tribulations Leonard went through in her lifetime.

After she and her first husband divorced, Leonard said life as a single mother with three kids was a task. And things would not get better before they got worse. A few years later, she said she reached one point where her family was living on food stamps.

“Sometimes I would go to places that passed out food and stood in line. We just didn’t have any,” Leonard said. “Things were hard.”

She said one of the main reasons she went to get her bachelor’s degree and, later, a law degree was for her family. She wanted to make sure they were well taken care of.

Adulthood wasn’t the first time she experienced hard times. Looking back on her childhood, Leonard said she hadn’t realized that she was poor. She said her father passed away when she was young, and her mother became a single mom with three kids. Because her mother always took care of her family’s needs, she said she never noticed the economic hardships and said she had a happy childhood.

“It was not until I became a poor adult that scars of economic deficiency affected my life,” she said.

Leonard, who is a wife, a mother of five children and the grandmother of five grandchildren, hopes that her children and others can learn from her life lessons. She makes every effort to continue to grow and learn, as well as to encourage others to always reach toward their aspirations.

Leonard said it is never too late be anything your heart desires.

“I didn’t go to law school until I was in my mid-to-late 30s,” Leonard said. “If you want it bad enough, there is a way to get whatever it is you want. You just have to be focused.”