Student Spotlight | After a Year-Long Deployment, Moving Ahead in Law School

Dean Anthony W. Crowell accepts an American flag and certificate on behalf of NYLS from Sergeant Barbie Melendez 2L Evening

Sergeant Barbie Melendez 2L is adept at juggling many roles. She is an Evening Division student at New York Law School (NYLS), a full-time Standards Specialist with the city’s Board of Correction, the mother of a 14-year-old daughter, and a Sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserves. After a year-long deployment at the Joint Task Force Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, she is rounding out her first full semester back at NYLS.

Last week, Sergeant Melendez presented Dean Anthony W. Crowell with a certificate and an American flag, symbols of her service and commitment to the rule of law. The flag was flown over the base’s high-security Camp VII detention facilities in tribute to the lives lost during 9/11 and Operation Enduring Freedom.

“Presenting the flag was a personal gesture and a small way to show my appreciation to all of those at New York Law School who support soldiers like me during deployments and at home,” she said.

Sergeant Melendez spent her deployment working at the Staff Judge Advocate (SJA), a large legal office within the Department of Defense. She received the Army Commendation Medal for her exemplary service at the SJA, which included leading many of SJA’s daily operations and providing support to nearly three dozen members of the office.

In October 2015, when she was notified of her deployment, Sergeant Melendez was midway through her second-year law classes. She worked with NYLS professors and administrators to put her studies on hold.

“This is how it would be in an actual military situation, so we have to be ready to go,” she said.

Reentry into her former life as a law student is “like riding a bike,” Sergeant Melendez said.

“I expected it to be challenging after I got back because most of the people that I used to study with and my friends from class have moved on because they’re ahead of me,” she said. “But everyone has been really helpful: my professors, people that I started law school with. They were really welcoming and excited to have me back, and it made me feel good.”

Her current course load—which includes Family Law, Evidence, Drafting Legislation, and Legislation and Regulation—will help make up for time lost during her deployment. The catch-up process will carry into the fall semester, but Sergeant Melendez is taking it in stride.

She is exploring a possible career in Family Law and looking forward to taking Immigration Law next year. She plans to continue working with NYLS’s Impact Center for Public Interest Law.

“I think that being deployed—and fighting for the country, our rights, our beliefs, and the freedoms that we have—gives me a different perspective on being able to also protect those rights outside of the military,” she said.

And she has enjoyed reconnecting with her daughter. Due to high security at the base, she had no cell phone service and spotty internet coverage during her deployment. She was able to speak with her daughter two to three times a week. Now, the two are spending more time together.

“I bring her to school sometimes, and my classmates know her,” Sergeant Melendez says. “They have watched her grow throughout the last two years. She enjoys it, and I feel good that the school is supportive.”