Never too old, never too young: Two unique Ave Maria law school students among 165 graduates

Alia Francesca Trafficante accepts her juris doctor degree from Ave Maria School of Law President and Dean Eugene R. Milhizer. 
  
 Jamie Hardesty/Special to the Citizen

Alia Francesca Trafficante accepts her juris doctor degree from Ave Maria School of Law President and Dean Eugene R. Milhizer. Jamie Hardesty/Special to the Citizen

Mellina Fortunato, 21, left, and John Arceri, 71, became the youngest and oldest graduates of the Ave Maria School of Law this past weekend. 
  
 Jamie Hardesty/Special to the Citizen

Mellina Fortunato, 21, left, and John Arceri, 71, became the youngest and oldest graduates of the Ave Maria School of Law this past weekend. Jamie Hardesty/Special to the Citizen

One of the 162 graduates smiles for the camera during the commencement exercises at Artis--Naples on Saturday. 
  
 Jamie Hardesty/Special to the Citizen

One of the 162 graduates smiles for the camera during the commencement exercises at Artis--Naples on Saturday. Jamie Hardesty/Special to the Citizen

John Arceri graduated high school in 1960 while Mellina Fortunato was born in 1992. The 71-year-old and 21-year-old, respectively, celebrated an accomplishment together on Saturday: being the youngest and oldest graduates of the Ave Maria School of Law.

The two special graduates walked across the stage of Artis—Naples (formerly the Philharmonic Center for the Arts) on Saturday along with 162 other exuberant law students, completing a rigorous 3-year juris doctor degree from the school, located in the Vineyards community of Naples, not the eastern Collier County town of Ave Maria from which it is named and associated.

Several prominent members of the Catholic community attended the graduation, including Carl A. Anderson, who received an honorary degree from Ave Maria. Anderson is supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic family fraternal service organization with more than 1.8 million members. He also was a special assistant to the president during Ronald Reagan’s tenure in office.

Fortunato completely bypassed high school to attend Mary Baldwin College in Virginia at 14 years old. She faced a number of challenges early on, but she said the dust settled and she became just another college student trying to get by.

“It was difficult in the beginning. There was a really big learning curve and an adjustment, but my last two years were absolutely great,” she said. “The age difference went away once I was assimilated. People didn’t know, it wasn’t an issue.”

Arceri enjoyed a long career in electrical engineering until his most recent academic move. He completed his bachelor’s of science in 1964 from Manhattan College and earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering shortly thereafter. Apparently, a master’s just wouldn’t cut it for Arceri, who also served one term as a Marco Island City Council member.

He said that despite his prior accomplishments, including being in charge of the electrical system of New York City, his heart always brought him back to law.

“I always wanted to go to law school, since I was a kid,” he said. “I was always intrigued by the law films and interesting cases. When I moved down here 16 years ago, there were no law schools. So when Ave Maria came down here my wife put a sign on the wall that said ‘last call. I don’t want hear about it anymore!’”

Arceri noted that, while most students called him “Mr. Arceri” during his time at Ave Maria, they were very helpful and supportive throughout his experience, despite the small age disparity.

“I went into it a little bit concerned,” Arceri said. “What I found is that it’s much more difficult than the other academia. It’s so grueling I wasn’t sure I could handle it. The younger students have a lot of advantages over me.”

He said he had an uphill battle from the start keeping up with his younger classmates.

“The computer skills was a big thing. A lot of students could type so fast, I’m over here hunting and pecking. Energy was the biggest problem, maintaining stamina.”

In the end, Arceri said older students are more than capable of succeeding in higher learning if they aspire to.

“You may not have the memory, the typing skills, the energy, but you have a work ethic that’s unbelievable. Our generation, the work ethic is you’re going to put in 15 hours a day,” he said.

Fortunato, who grew up in the Southwest Florida area, chose Ave Maria to stay close to home.

“My family wanted me to come back home after living away for four years at 14,” she said. “It was a good choice. It was tough, but it went by really fast.”

Despite her fresh-minted law degree, Fortunato has no plans of becoming a lawyer anytime soon.

“I don’t think for now that I’m going to practice law. For a year or two I’m doing AmeriCorps,” she said. “I’ll be volunteering for awhile because I have time and it’s something I always wanted to do. It’s also a great gateway to federal employment and a good way to travel the world.”

AmeriCorps is a program of the U.S. government engaging adults in intensive community service work. Fortunato compared the program as the domestic version of the Peace Corps.

She plans on taking the bar exam in the foreseeable future, but first she’s going to give herself something she hasn’t had in a long time: a well-deserved break.

“Possibly down the line I’d work in nonprofit law, immigration law, something like that, but for now I really want to volunteer, travel the world, and take a break from school.”

While Fortunato’s ambitions reach beyond law, Arceri’s focus will coincide with many of Saturday’s graduates, passing the state’s bar exam.

“The focus is studying, I’ll take Florida exam at the end of July. I really believe I’ll pass because this school truly did an amazing job,” he said.

He’ll be sticking to what he knows if he gets through the test.

“I’ll have a very narrow specialty, personal injury associated with electric shock and burns. Handle cases for plaintiffs and defendants,” he said.

Anderson gave the commencement address for the 2013 graduates. He stressed the importance of holding true to one’s morals and that, throughout history, the choices of many lawyers has impacted millions of lives.

“The arguments you make, and the cases you take, will help write our nation’s future,” he said. “Work hard in your careers for what is right. Your courage, your integrity, is more important than ever.”

© 2013 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 15

RayPray writes:

Now to pass the bar....

ed34145 writes:

Congratulations to both! They deserve a lot of credit for their accomplishments.

1Paradiselost writes:

Congrats to the OLD geezer pictured.

We have a lift station on our street named after him!

2themoon writes:

Father Sewer,.esq.

WMissow writes:

“I’ll have a very narrow specialty, personal injury associated with electric shock and burns. Handle cases for plaintiffs and defendants,” he said.

Just out of law school and his massive ego thinks that some poor soul is going to hire him to handle their litigation.

WMissow writes:

Some interesting statistics to ponder.

http://law-school.findthebest.com/l/1...

1Paradiselost writes:

in response to WMissow:

“I’ll have a very narrow specialty, personal injury associated with electric shock and burns. Handle cases for plaintiffs and defendants,” he said.

Just out of law school and his massive ego thinks that some poor soul is going to hire him to handle their litigation.

We agree on this one... Who their right mind would hire this guy? Or did he go back to school for his own ego?

Ave Maria Law school will graduate any student who is breathing and can pay the tuition. Unknown to the public eye the collage is currently having massive financial problems. In the past two years alone has laid off 65% of it's staff.

He's a person who had a "massive ego" BEFORE he received his law degree!

Ever talk to him? He's pompous horses butt who gets in you face when talks to anyone, as he keeps repeating your name. Anyone agree?

He learned early in life how to intimidate people. Thru his actions has cost the taxpayers of Marco Island millions of dollars because his ego & ignorance!

WMissow writes:

Do you wonder which law firm will hire him?

If it turns out to be Tucker's, that will put the icing on the cake as far as cronyism at it best/worst.

WMissow writes:

Correction. The late Tucker's

WMissow writes:

1Paradise said "We agree on this one... Who their right mind would hire this guy? Or did he go back to school for his own ego?"

Paradise, I never said that all democrats had no redeeming points of view. ;-)

Mayor_McCheese writes:

I get why the old guy went to Ave Maria since it seems like law for him is a long term interest and perhaps a bit of a hobby, but for the young woman, I'm afraid she likely wasted her time and money.

Ave Maria is among the worst law schools in the US and isn't likely to climb in the ranking anytime soon. US News has it squarely in the 4th tier (its lowest) and doesn't even rank it numerically. It is well known that there are far more law graduates than the market can absorb so most of the Ave Maria graduates will either become sole practitioners in small towns or will end up working in non-legal fields. These graduates are unlikely to be selected for prestigious judicial clerkships or top firm summer associate position. It is hard enough for graduates of top law schools to find good jobs. For these graduates, it will be near impossible.

The worst part is that many if not most of these graduates will have great difficulty paying back the loans they took out to attend.

Large firms, even in Florida are very unlikely to hire one of these graduates in the near future. After it becomes a bit more established, that may change, but it will take decades for that to happen.

Really, the world didn't need another law school.

ajm3s writes:

in response to Mayor_McCheese:

I get why the old guy went to Ave Maria since it seems like law for him is a long term interest and perhaps a bit of a hobby, but for the young woman, I'm afraid she likely wasted her time and money.

Ave Maria is among the worst law schools in the US and isn't likely to climb in the ranking anytime soon. US News has it squarely in the 4th tier (its lowest) and doesn't even rank it numerically. It is well known that there are far more law graduates than the market can absorb so most of the Ave Maria graduates will either become sole practitioners in small towns or will end up working in non-legal fields. These graduates are unlikely to be selected for prestigious judicial clerkships or top firm summer associate position. It is hard enough for graduates of top law schools to find good jobs. For these graduates, it will be near impossible.

The worst part is that many if not most of these graduates will have great difficulty paying back the loans they took out to attend.

Large firms, even in Florida are very unlikely to hire one of these graduates in the near future. After it becomes a bit more established, that may change, but it will take decades for that to happen.

Really, the world didn't need another law school.

There is a wildly held belief as presented by Chief Justice Roberts at last years Centennial celebration at RICE. In a Q and A segment after his short presentation regarding RICE's founding, there is now a famous quote Justice Roberts made in response to students considering law school.

“I think there are a lot of people who go to law school because they’re not good at math, and can’t think of anything else to do, it’s always a difficult profession, particularly these days. You have to have a reason.”

http://www.ricethresher.org/chief-jus...#.UZ9TP5yucz4

And most recently, was it NOT surprising when lawyer and IRS director of Exempt Organizations official, Lois Lerner stated,“I’m not good at math,” at a damage-control news conference following revelations the IRS had targeted tea party groups. And this week she invokes the 5th Amendment AFTER providing testimony. Thank God there are attorney's with a clue as exemplified by Trey Gowdy, 4th district representative of South Carolina, when he clearly alerted the house committee to a faux pas by Ms. Lerner. I believe Ms. Lerner may have not taken advice from her counsel and opted to include her testimony as an exhibit of self defiance which may lead to her self demise.

And some still believe in big government to protect us.

God help us all!

WMissow writes:

The question is now, will he or won't pass the bar on his first try?

gladesgator writes:

in response to WMissow:

The question is now, will he or won't pass the bar on his first try?

It took Charlie Crist about 8 times to pass the bar and look where he is not.

For the people(money)!

Mayor_McCheese writes:

in response to ajm3s:

There is a wildly held belief as presented by Chief Justice Roberts at last years Centennial celebration at RICE. In a Q and A segment after his short presentation regarding RICE's founding, there is now a famous quote Justice Roberts made in response to students considering law school.

“I think there are a lot of people who go to law school because they’re not good at math, and can’t think of anything else to do, it’s always a difficult profession, particularly these days. You have to have a reason.”

http://www.ricethresher.org/chief-jus...#.UZ9TP5yucz4

And most recently, was it NOT surprising when lawyer and IRS director of Exempt Organizations official, Lois Lerner stated,“I’m not good at math,” at a damage-control news conference following revelations the IRS had targeted tea party groups. And this week she invokes the 5th Amendment AFTER providing testimony. Thank God there are attorney's with a clue as exemplified by Trey Gowdy, 4th district representative of South Carolina, when he clearly alerted the house committee to a faux pas by Ms. Lerner. I believe Ms. Lerner may have not taken advice from her counsel and opted to include her testimony as an exhibit of self defiance which may lead to her self demise.

And some still believe in big government to protect us.

God help us all!

I agree with Justice Roberts. That's one reason I went to law school.

Law school admissions ebb and flow with the times. When I went to law school, the TV show "L.A. Law" was popular and that resulted in a huge number of people applying to law schools during those years. When the Movie Wall Street cam out, people started going to MBA programs in huge numbers instead of law school. Both of these and other events all have added up to the overgrowth of mediocre graduate programs nationwide.

Evey piddling college wants to have a business school and a law school. They raise the money, build the building, hire faculty, recruit students who then use guaranteed student loans, and then they crank out graduates that cant find jobs in their chosen profession.

It comes down to the greed of the colleges and their administrators who have as a result of all of this activity seen their compensation go through the roof over the past 20 years.

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