When I was 8, my teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her that I wanted to be a lawyer. She smiled and said, “Honey, you have to go to college to be a lawyer”.
As the years passed, that smile always stuck with me. It stayed with me when I was accepted to the University of Texas on a full ride. It stayed with me as I waited in line to receive my Juris Doctorate with honors from the University of Illinois. And I couldn’t help but smile myself when I announced my candidacy for the 68th District Court in Dallas County, Texas.
As the daughter of a public school teacher and immigrant from Tehran, raised with limited resources in rural Lampasas, Texas, I never had an easy path. A lot of success in American life is driven by luck. But I was fortunate that my mother taught me the opportunities that come are captured by hard work and determination. While we still have a long way to go, I believe with hard work, and a fair and just system, there is opportunity for everyone to achieve their dreams.
For me, that opportunity was driven in a big way by my high school debate teacher Mrs. Melton. Mrs. Melton provided the opportunity to be challenged academically and the support necessary to succeed. It was on her debate team that I first experienced real academic research and critical thinking and the judicial opinions and legal reasoning led to my love of the law.
Mrs. Melton pushed me and always believed in my abilities — ultimately landing our team debate at the State Debate tournament in 2001. It was because guidance, unwavering support, and her old typewriter (used to fill out my scholarship applications) that I was able to attend undegrad at the University of Texas at Austin, and it was through that education I believe I was able to begin to level the playing field.
At UT, I learned about Judge Sarah Hughes during a course on the Johnson years. It was trailblazers like Judge Sarah T. Hughes, the first female district court judge in Texas, who opened up the system to candidates like me. Judge Hughes was known for being a smart, speedy, and impartial judge. She ran her first political campaign at 33, and was appointed in 1935 to the bench at a time when women’s roles were often limited to homemaking. The next year, Dallas citizens voted to keep her on the bench, and they kept elected her for seven consecutive elections.
Judge Hughes practiced law in Dallas for eight years before embarking in politics, first serving three terms in the Texas House of Representatives as a Democrat. After taking the bench, she continued work she had started in the House to ensure all voices have an opportunity to be heard. Judge Hughes helped establish Dallas’s first juvenile detention center and played a key role in the passage of a 1954 amendment to the Texas Constitution allowing women to serve on juries. While both initiatives were politically unpopular at the time, Judge Hughes did not waver in her resolve or determination to see them to fruition.
Looking back, I don’t have any animonisty for the people through the years who told me the ceiling was my limit. But I have abounding love for people like my mother, Mrs. Melton, Judge Hughes — and Mrs. Johnson, my Kindergarten teacher at Lampasas Primary School, who once said that I have endless potential, and could be the first female President of the United States. I don’t know if that’s in the cards, but it’s her confidence and the confidence of the other powerful women which has inspired me to take on the this challenge. And I can’t help but smile.