Freshmen Simeon Daferede and Kylie Mignat are this year’s recipients of the Virginia Civil Service Scholarships, a full scholarship awarded to University of Virginia Law School students pursuing careers in public service.
Daferede, whose first name is pronounced “Simon”, graduated from the University of Chicago with a major in political science. Most recently, he worked as a project associate at the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall Center for Children, where he helped research and develop projects to address youth homelessness and improve the system. of child protection. While in college, he gained experience on both sides of the criminal justice system through internships with the District of Columbia’s Public Defender Service and in the Cook County and Miami State Attorneys’ offices. -Dad.
Mignat, a graduate of the University of Scranton, earned a triple major in German Cultural Studies, Hispanic Studies, and Latin American Studies. During and after her graduate studies at New York University, where she obtained a master’s degree in Latin American and Caribbean studies, Mignat worked as a legal assistant in the New York office of Kids in Need of Defense, mainly to help unaccompanied minor children to obtain legal status in the United States. Between college and graduate school, she worked as a bilingual paralegal helping victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.
“Simeon and Kylie have shown a fierce commitment to protecting and defending some of the most vulnerable members of our communities,” said Leah Gould, associate dean of public service and director of the Mortimer Caplin Public Service Center. “Simeon’s service to homeless youth in Chicago and Kylie’s advocacy for unaccompanied minor asylum seekers in New York are just a few examples of the experiences they bring to law school.”
Attending the University of Chicago was a “culture shock” for Daferede, who had grown up in Winter Haven, Florida, with unstable housing situations and a father who was in and out of the criminal justice system.
“My classmates were quite well off and could go home and lead normal lives, without having to work to pay for their education and help support their families,” Daferede said. “I just had to return to a very different world, and after seeing the inequalities my family and communities faced, I wanted to help others by pursuing a legal career.”
Through her internships and experience researching youth homelessness, Daferede began to understand the systemic issues that affect people living on the margins of society.
“I’ve seen a lot of people risking incarceration, whether it’s criminalizing homeless youth for squatting or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or families whose children are separated from them because that they had a partner under investigation for a drug charge,” Daferede said. “I want to work with others who are working hard to undo the effects of many years of systemic injustices.”
Mignat’s worldview was shaped by a 17-year-old unaccompanied migrant named Enrique. He was the subject of a book she read, ‘Enrique’s Journey’, at the height of the unaccompanied minors crisis on the US southern border.
“I was really surprised to learn that there were so few resources available for unaccompanied minors and immigrants more generally,” Mignat said. “That’s really what drew my attention to law and that’s how I ended up redirecting my major to international studies.
At Kids in Need of Defense, she worked with a teenage asylum seeker who had been abused by loved ones in Central America, building the girl’s confidence in order to get the details that would solidify her asylum claim.
Mignat was drawn to UVA Law, in part because of his work in the area of children’s rights, including the Youth Advocacy and Holistic Youth Defense clinics, as well as the interdisciplinary studies offered by the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy.
Daferede also cited the clinical programs as well as the school’s emphasis on financial support for careers in public service. The Innocence Project, the Criminal Defense Clinic, the Appellate Litigation Clinic and the Project for Informed Reform all held special appeal to him.
Mignat is fluent in Spanish and German and has basic knowledge of Russian and K’iche’, a Mayan language from Guatemala. (Her master’s thesis focused on the pressure on young indigenous Guatemalans to emigrate, and she hopes to continue study the language at UVA.) She sings soprano and karaoke.
Daferede is fluent in French and proficient in Spanish. His musical interests lie in piano, drums, guitar and viola.
The scholarships were launched in 2017 and funded in part by flagship endowments created by Tim ’83 and Lynne Palmer, Dave Burke ’93 and Ted ’92 and Keryn Mathas in honor of former professor Bill Stuntz ’84. They are awarded to two or more freshmen based on their commitment to work as public service attorneys immediately upon graduation, academic excellence, and leadership potential.
Public Service Scholars are automatically admitted to UVA Law’s Law and Public Service Program, which provides intensive training to a select group of students seeking to work in the public interest. The program began 12 years ago under current UVA President Jim Ryan ’92, a former professor and associate dean of the law school.
Former Civil Service Fellows