Siegfried Coleman is a proud 2014 graduate of the Southern University Law Center. Like many HBCU students, he survived late nights and tough assignments while balancing a full-time job and life as a husband and father.
Coleman is well on his way to fulfilling a life long dream of becoming a lawyer, and he may just leave the full-time job he worked as a law student in the past.
But nuclear engineering isn't the kind of job you just quit.
Carlestle Coleman vividly remembers early signs of her son's talent; the fifth grader who had to begin middle school curriculum early because he had already mastered all the primary school material. The seventh grader who grew so frustrated with average grades in his guitar classes that he feigned headaches every morning to keep himself out of school.
"He ended up being the top student in the guitar class," says Mrs. Coleman, an Albany State University alumna graduate who spent 35 years in Shreveport's Caddo Parish School System. "He still has that to this day. And I think that was his introduction to the real world. Learning that in everything you do, you have to work your hardest at it."
Life in Shreveport was a unique mix of love and motivation inside of Coleman's home, and bad circumstances outside of it.
"I grew up in a rough neighborhood in Shreveport. A lot of little boys like me were either dying or going to jail by the time we were teens. My parents made me realize not to raise my kids in that environment," Coleman says.
Coleman's excellence in the classroom continued through to high school, when in the 11th grade he committed to service in the National Guard. His parents bristled at the thought of the mild-mannered child in active military duty, but test scores revealed a high aptitude in engineering. Following his service, Coleman enrolled as a student at Louisiana Tech University and continued to excel as an electrical engineering major until faced with an unexpected tragedy during his senior year - the sudden death of his father.
"He wanted to drop out of college," says Mrs. Coleman. "He said "I'm the man of the house, I have to take care of you." I said, "I am still your mother, and I take care of you." I remember at the service, one of my husband's former employers told (Coleman and his brothers) "he had real high hopes for you, so finish school." That was motivation for him sticking in school."
Coleman finished, married, and eventually found himself working as a nuclear engineer in South Bend, Ind. He and his wife Lavondra found stability in the midwest; he as respected engineer and she as a member of the South Bend entrepreneurial community.
And then the man of many interests and unlimited talent began to contemplate the idea of law school. With an eye towards eliminating disparities in employment opportunities and civil representation, the Colemans began to discuss ways to make the dream become a reality. They needed a place that had both a nuclear power plant and a law school nearby to each other.
For the Shreveport native, the Entergy Corporation was the perfect landing spot for a job, and the Southern Law Center was an obvious choice for his educational pursuits. An unlikely reaction from his son served as the final confirmation.
"Being a lawyer has been a long time passion of mine," Coleman says. "When Obama was elected, my son was eight years old. His election was a platform for me to tell him that he could do anything he wanted to do. And when that happened, he told me, 'but you aren't doing what you want to do.' It was fascinating that he picked up on that, so, we decided to go ahead and do it."
While Siegfried and Lavondra admit bumps along the way, both attribute the success of the move to love and faith helping in the most stressful moments. School functions with the kids, Saturday morning breakfasts, and family outings were among the most painful casualties of Coleman's return to school. But Lavondra, who served as family disciplinarian and cheerleader throughout the process, says everything was more than worthwhile given Siegfried's ability to balance it all.
"My love for him and my overwhelming confidence in him made it all so easy. The kids knew this was temporary therefore, they were always patient and understanding. However, he never missed birthday celebrations nor our anniversary and when there was an emergency, he would drop everything to be by our side."
"Although it was a long, hard journey, I am happy that it's over and grateful that it started. There were many empty nights along the way and days which seemed endless; however, I knew it was part of God's plan for our life. He made it all look so easy because of his love for law, his family and the overwhelming will to succeed. We believed, and still believe, that this journey was designed to make us a stronger and more committed family."
Siegfried echoed the sentiments, and added just how much the support of his wife guided him through the process.
"It's incredible. I wouldn't have been able to go this far without that kind of marriage and foundation. I come to her and ask 'Let's change our whole lifestyle and move to Baton Rouge.' She closed down a successful company to support my dream. There were a few times where I thought I wouldn't do it anymore. But she wouldn't let me quit. My wife and my family have been my biggest cheerleaders. My son went from age 10 to 14 over this period. She was the chief disciplinarian."
Coleman also credits the support of SULC faculty in his studies. When his job required him to travel, professors allowed for Skype attendance in classes and submission allowances for his work. When asked about the comparison between Southern Law and Louisiana Tech, Coleman quickly explains why there are no comparisons.
(La. Tech) was a good school but there was no personal investment from the professors. They didn't care whether we made it or not. At Southern, the professors, staff, and chancellor took an invested interest in my success. They were interested in working it out so that I could still be held to a standard, but making it more flexible for my profession."
Five years after moving, and while balancing a career as an engineering manager, Coleman graduated in May with a 3.95 GPA and summa cum laude honors. Attached to his law degree, specializations in business and real estate.
His advice to those chasing similar dreams? You only get one shot.
"When I went to law school, I was 38 years old. When I imagined myself at 48, I didn't want to be wishing I had those things. I was going to be 48 one way or another, and pursuing my dream gave me the strength to endure the hardships."
"Life is finite, you don't get to do it again, so take the steps to achieve exactly what you want out of it."