Ciara Villalona-Lockhart and her mom at St. Thomas the Apostle School in West Hempstead, NY in 2002
Dreams rise from hardship.
Some might see this as a catchy phrase, or a hopeful sentiment, or a resonant mantra. For Ciara Villalona-Lockhart, it’s a deep belief that has guided her from her childhood on Long Island, through her years as a first-generation college student in Manhattan, to the success she has earned at St. John’s Law, where she is now in her final year.
“I was raised by a single mother who had been on her own from a very young age,” Villalona-Lockhart says of the woman she lovingly calls “a rock star.” Spending hours at the small real estate law firm where her mother worked—and still works—as a paralegal made an impression on Villalona-Lockhart as a child. “The story goes, I was just a preschooler and watching Judge Judy on television when my mom asked, ‘Do you like Judge Judy?’ Without hesitating, I replied, ‘I am Judge Judy!’”
In addition to introducing her to the legal profession and modeling a tremendous work ethic, Villalona-Lockhart’s mother instilled in her daughter an strong sense of identity and pride as a Latina with roots in the Dominican Republic. The family also embraced the Church values that were imparted to Villalona-Lockhart through years of Catholic education.
Villalona-Lockhart was in 7th grade when she and her classmates came to St. John’s Law to participate in the Catholic Middle School Mock Trial Program. The competition was a formative experience, she says, that stayed with her through high school and college. “When I decided to go to law school, St. John’s naturally was my top choice and I applied right away,” Villalona-Lockhart shares, adding, “Those mock trial memories never dimmed.”
At St. John’s, she quickly found a supportive community in the Latin American Law Students Association (LALSA), which she leads this academic year as the organization’s president. “Many of us in LALSA are first-generation law students,” Villalona-Lockhart says. “We’re here for each other, and we celebrate our common bonds, along with the resilience, creativity, and accomplishments of our people.”
As her time at the Law School winds down, Villalona-Lockhart has a lot to look forward to. After she graduates and takes the New York bar exam, she will start as an associate at Cullen and Dykman LLP on Long Island. She is also engaged to be married to the love of her life, and will mark all these milestones with her mother and her stepfather, who she describes as “the best.”
“I’ll never know the struggles my mom endured, or the sacrifices she made, to give me this life and help me fulfill my dream of becoming a lawyer,” Villalona-Lockhart says. “But I’m incredibly grateful for all she has done for me, and I’ll continue to strive every single day to live up to the example she has set and make her proud.”