For Sylonda Lang, making the decision to attend Spelman College evolved into personal and professional development helping her to find a career path she loves. As a summer associate at a prestigious Chicago law firm, I’d say she’s headed towards success, but her success didn’t come without challenges. From searching for scholarships to navigating the OCI process, Sylonda learned to be proactive, a skill that has allowed her to break down barriers and land opportunities that have taken her to new heights. Keep scrolling for more on how Sylonda is a stand-out intern!
Name: Sylonda Lang
Hometown: From a little bit of everywhere. I lived all over due to my dad being in the Navy. I consider Georgia home since both my parents were raised there and have a ton of family living there.
Alma Mater: Spellman College
Current University: Northwestern University School of Law
Undergraduate Major: Philosophy with a minor in English
If you are going to a Historically Black College/University (HBCU), why didn’t you attend a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) and vice versa?
I chose “the number one HBCU” Spelman College for a number of reasons. I am extremely close to my family and so wanted to stay in or near Georgia. I use to be really shy and wanted a smaller institution where I could blossom and wouldn’t “seep through the cracks.” Specific to it being an all female HBCU, I was excited by the experience of having a school of sisters. I have two sisters but they are 7 and 8 years apart. The school was also reputable both in Georgia and around the country.
Internship Company: Foley and Lardner LLP
Internship Title: Summer Associate
How did you pay for college? Specific scholarships or grants?
It was difficult in the beginning. As a first generation college student, I didn’t think about it during the application process, just that I should go to college, so I applied to schools. My family was also going through a tough time so it wasn’t until I enrolled that I fully realized how much I would be paying. My mother helped out as much as she could working two or three jobs but I still had to take out loans. For the first two years I mainly relied on loans with some grants. She didn’t have everything, but she made it work. I had no one to co-sign my loans so it was really difficult, but I was proactive. I frequented the financial aid office to the point that the officers knew my name. While there were some close calls and holds on my account, they didn’t want me to drop out because I had good grades.
At the end of my second year my grades paid off and I was awarded a Social Justice Scholarship. This was a full ride scholarship that also comprised of two advocacy internships – a grassroots movement and a children’s non-profit organization. This is where I got my first introduction to how many different ways you can use a law degree. I also worked as research assistant. I didn’t think I would be able to graduate, despite having good grades. It all worked out by the grace of God. If you want an education you have to be proactive.
What organizations did you join while in college? Were any influential to the current career path you’re interested in pursuing?
I wasn’t sure about what I wanted to do when I grew up so I was willing to expose myself to a lot of different things. What had the greatest impact on me was being a part of the Student Government Association (SGA) because you get to interact with so many people. For me, it broke that shyness. Having to speak publicly and communicate with a number of people was good for me. I was also apart of the school magazine because I liked writing. Through that I was able to meet a professor who took me under her wings and I became her research assistant. I volunteered with an organization. I tried a little but of everything. It helped me to learn what I was good at.
Being a part of the fellowship was great. It gave me a number of opportunities. I got to travel to Cape Town and go to a place called Masasputlaehile. It was one of my first times being outside of the country (that I can remember). We were able to shadow the clinics, fund-raise, and gain understanding about what it means to be in someone else’s shoes. It was awesome exposure. It helped me learn more about a region of Africa aside from what is depicted on TV. Cape Town is really beautiful.
In law school I’ve been able to travel to Morocco. That was an awesome experience as well. I was able to go with friends while working on a collaborative research paper. We looked at how racism shows up in their culture.
Most influential college professor and/or course?
Professor Rosetta Ross. I met her my freshman year. She headed the department of religion and I took one of her courses. She also did some work with the magazine that I tried out a little. She came to me and said that she saw something in me, and asked for my help with the book she was writing. The book was about Ruby Hurley, an NAACP activist in the 1900’s. What she was doing was ground breaking since not many women were at the forefront of the movement for equality for Black people, and those who were are hardly recognized. For me to be able to earn money and learn the importance of strong communication skills was great. Professor Ross was a very good person to learn from, she taught me how to write.
How did you land this internship?
After your first year of law school you go through what is called an OCI process, which stands for “On Campus Interviews.” Talking to people who had done the process before also helped me prepare. You’re looking at places you could see yourself for at least a few years, to start your professional career. The process was difficult but it helped to fine tune my interview skills, and with the support of family members and old professors I was ready. Remembering why I came to law school definitely helped me prevail during the interview process.
What is your favorite college memory?
One of the most memorable is being able to take the trip abroad with other Spelman students. There were so many getting ready with the girls, and sleepover moments that made my experience at Spelman great.
What is a typical workday like for you?
Doing whatever people want you to do. You’re there to learn. Not only are you learning skills on how to be an attorney, you’ll read a lot, you’ll do a lot of research. But you will also learn how to better communicate with people. Essentially, what you want to do is learn at the feet from other lawyers.
What has been the most challenging moment of your internship?
Project management. Balancing projects. Making sure that you leave enough time before you complete the projects to edit properly, figuring out the when there is too much on my plate versus not enough and need to look for more projects and get more work. But you never know when people will get back to you and whether or not or how long you should wait before soliciting for more work.
Has being Black affected your internship experience? If so, how?
Being black, specifically a black woman always makes you more conscious of things. There’s this intersectionality. You can never separate who you are from your blackness. That’s your identity. You are always conscious about how people perceive you or what they say. So its being conscious… always wondering. That part can be a burden because you don’t feel free to be who you are… you don’t want to be a stereotype. There are also times where you just have to deal with ill-informed comments.
What do you look forward to everyday at work?
I’m crazy about writing, so I’m generally always looking to improve my skills, sentence structure, being more concise, communicating well. I get a kick out of writing. When I find a good piece of writing I will save it and read it again later. I admire good writers.
In your opinion, what are the most detrimental traits you can have as an intern?
You just cannot be lazy. If you are lazy you miss stuff and you don’t want to work hard. Law school doesn’t teach you how to be an attorney, so when you get to a law firm you have to grind, you have to work. Sometimes you might not feel like doing things, even the social things. But you can miss an opportunity if you fall into that. There is also a certain level of perfection you have to have. You have to care and take pride in your work.
Boyfriend material, which one: Alpha, Kappa, Omega, Sigma, or Iota?
Favorite Quote (or lyric)?
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” – Marianne Williamson
Best advice you’ve ever received?
God has a plan for every single one of us. It all works out.
Beer, Wine, or Juice?
#TeamNatural or #TeamRelaxed?
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Reality TV Shows
Most played song on ITunes?