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Future mediator graduates with legal studies certificate from CLC with 4.0

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published May 19, 2021

A working mother of nine was one of 37 students who graduated from the legal studies program at College of Lake County (CLC) this spring. Katherine (Kathy) Swopes finished her certificate with a 4.0 grade point average and intends to use her legal studies education to work in the public interest and further access to justice and social equity causes.

A Waukegan resident originally from North Chicago, Swopes earned her bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Illinois after high school. She took summer classes at CLC to help complete her degree within four years. But she didn’t know she’d be back for more as an adult.

Swopes went through a lot of personal legal, civil and criminal experiences where she did a lot of filing and appealing on her own. Since she had a lot of experience with the legal system, she wanted more education. Instead of pursuing costly classes at law school, she discovered CLC has an outstanding legal studies department where she could take two classes at a time and finish in two years.

“Anyone looking to go into law should go to CLC first to see if they like it,” Swopes advises. She was able to gain a lot of experience talking with judges and lawyers while attending CLC, without taking on the expense and time commitment of law school.

Once she enrolled, financial aid recommended Swopes apply for scholarships. She ended up with free tuition for her entire course of study.

“CLC encourages everyone to get scholarships,” Swopes said. “Apply and see what happens. I only found out few weeks before semester started, and I was elated. You mean, I don’t have to pay for this?!”

Gayle Miller, one of Swopes’ legal studies instructors said, “To say Kathy is a 'go getter' is an understatement. Whenever there was an obstacle, she sought input and figured out a path through it or around it. Like a duck who appears to swim effortlessly above the water while furiously paddling below it, unknown to most, Kathy managed so much behind the scenes, yet she always took the time to reach out to fellow students as a supportive and collaborative member of our legal studies community and never missed a class or a deadline.”

Swopes’ strong work ethic and persistence carried her through the long days as a working student. While employed as a full-time office support specialist at local family business in Lake County, she balanced work, family and college life.

“Once I finished the first semester, I reminded myself I only have a little way to go,” Swopes said. “It was a short period of time in hindsight. Just do it every day and keep going. You can do anything you set your mind to. If you really want it, go and do it.”

Because she doesn’t like the arguing back and forth of litigation, Swopes next wants to pursue her mediation certificate through a nonprofit in Chicago. She is already an active associate member of the Lake County Bar Association and regularly participates in the Outreach and Diversity Committee. Swopes also plans to volunteer at the Lake County guardianship desk in the fall to help people understand the legal forms aren’t as scary as they look.

“I talk them through the steps,” she says with empathy. “Having been in their shoes before, I offer a different perspective.”

When it comes to CLC, Swopes offers the following advice to the prospective students who may think a college education is something they don’t think they can afford: “The support is waiting for you at CLC. The college took care of everything. The money is out there, so always apply for scholarships. Take the time to write the essays and learn more about yourself. Because even if you don’t know what you want to do, you can't figure that out until you have some experiences.”

About College of Lake County

College of Lake County is a comprehensive community college committed to equitable high-quality education, cultural enrichment and partnerships to advance the diverse communities it serves in northeastern Illinois. Offered at three campuses in Grayslake, Vernon Hills and Waukegan or online, college classes are affordable and accessible to help each student achieve academic, career and personal goals. More than 70,000 students graduated with degrees and certificates since the college opened in 1969. College of Lake County is the only higher-education institution ranked among the top 15 best places to work in Illinois by Forbes and is a national leader in many areas, including sustainability and conservation.