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Austin K.

Major(s) and Certificate(s): 

Spanish Major

Graduation Year: 
Current city: 
Current state/province/country (if outside US): 
What have you done since graduating from UW-Madison?: 

My path to the law was a winding one, but on each leg of the journey I have benefited enormously from my fluency in Spanish, the product of my Spanish Language major at UW-Madison. As a young elected official on the Madison City Council, I was the only member of the body who could speak Spanish fluently, and frequently found myself on Spanish-language radio or giving interviews to La Comunidad or Voz Latina. This outreach proved crucial in mobilizing the Latino community behind my proposals to raise the minimum wage and guarantee paid sick days for workers, among others. When I left Madison for New Orleans to work as the national director of the ACORN Financial Justice Center, I found myself speaking Spanish daily with our members and organizers as we fought to save homes from foreclosure and pass legislation to stop predatory lending practices. I spent my second year in law school with Make the Road New York, an immigrant membership organization, conducting interviews with clients in Spanish and helping them recover wages stolen by their employers. When I went to a big law firm the next summer, my Spanish fluency (and corresponding "Spitaliano" proficiency) landed me at the firm's offices in Rome for a month, living and working on the Spanish Steps, after which I finally got to Spain (indeed my only regret from my time with the Spanish Department is that I never studied abroad). Now, as a law clerk to a federal judge, I still have occasion to use my Spanish in translating letters from defendants, to say nothing of its quotidian uses in New York. But it is not just the ability to communicate in Spanish that has benefited my career; I know that my Spanish Language major immeasurably improved my ability to communicate in English because I am far more careful with grammar (and particularly punctilious with the subjunctive) and flush with a vocabulary of cognates. Most future lawyers are probably considering majors in political science or philosophy, but the gravamen of this work is language and communication, skills that I honed, happily if at the time unwittingly, through my major in Spanish Language.