Emblem: Going the Distance
Gabrielle Vickers (PPE, ‘17) desire to help build strong families and love towards people on the edges of society led her to pursue a law degree so that she could serve the children and families of New York City.
One Saturday morning in 2018, Gabrielle Vickers (PPE ’17) completed the first of two hours-long endurance tests she had signed up for that weekend. The test she had just taken was the Law School Admission Test at Pace University, down the street from King’s campus. After finishing, she hopped on a bus. The next morning she would run the Philadelphia Marathon, the second of three marathons she has run.
This is Gabrielle, one might say: a 27-year-old Fordham Law graduate (May ’22), a marathoner, and someone who read nearly 90 books for fun in 2020 while her law classes continued on Zoom. But to understand Gabrielle, one must understand what she, with all of these traits—the determination, the intelligence, the ambition—is truly driving at. At first, she wasn’t sure herself.
When still a student at King’s, she confronted this uncertainty in church while at home in Texas on a break. Her sister Sydney Vickers, 24, recounted the “big moment” when Gabrielle broke down during the service after a sermon on Christian ministry. Sydney remembers Gabrielle asking, “Why am I pursuing this education? Why am I not in ministry for people in need?” Actually, Gabrielle was involved in ministry, and she had been for some time: mission trips, local service, children’s ministry, and volunteering at The Bowery Mission in New York City. She also worked in donor services at the Bowery between undergrad and law school. “Service has always been in her nature,” Sydney said.
Gabrielle’s breakthrough moment in her Texas church was realizing that she wanted to prioritize service in her life goals, and not just perform it on the side. Yet the path forward hasn’t been simple. She has felt tension between her heart for ministry—particularly for serving children—and her intellect and ambition, including the different opportunities that her law school degree affords her.
Her roles in children’s ministry at Liberty Church Brooklyn from 2014–2021 were particularly representative of her service priorities. Leticia Mosqueda, King’s Director of Residence Life and Gabrielle’s friend and roommate, marveled at her commitment to the ministry week after week. “I had never met someone who wants to serve in this capacity every week,” Leticia said. “It can be difficult to get people to serve even once. It brought her so much joy, and she was faithful, even if only three kids showed up, even if the kids were difficult.”
Following her job at the Bowery, Gabrielle was ready for a challenge. She knew she wanted to attend graduate school, and she had been considering a degree in social work. However, after conducting some informational interviews with social workers, she realized that the job did not suit her skillset. Her goal remained the same—to help build strong families—but she wanted to find a career that would combine the human with the intellectual, whereas she learned that social work is “all people skills and all interaction.”
Law school had been in the back of her mind as well. It wasn’t exactly a dream, but it was a “maybe.” Taking Constitutional Law with Dr. David Tubbs at King’s gave her confidence that she could understand and enjoy the study and research involved in a legal career. Also, as the faculty assistant to Dr. Joshua Blander for Intro to Philosophy, she discovered that logic came naturally to her. The LSAT mostly consists of logic problems and reading comprehension, and lawyers must be able to see how legal statutes fit together in a logical “if-then” manner.
The vision for easing the tension between her service-oriented goals and intellectual gifts was taking shape. Gabrielle has since pursued public interest and family law in her legal internships, and she most wants to represent children as a lawyer. Now a Fordham Law graduate, she worked as a legal intern in juvenile rights practice at The Legal Aid Society, a nonprofit legal aid provider in NewYork City, the oldest and largest of its kind in the U.S. She was previously a legal intern at the NYC Administration for Children’s Services (ACS).
Though Gabrielle believes she’s on the right path for now, the kinds of legal cases she has confronted at ACS and The Legal Aid Society have unearthed a new world of challenge. Performing research for cases of child abuse and neglect has been psychologically and emotionally taxing.
The details of these cases are confidential, but Gabrielle is able to share her general observations on the child welfare system. Many problems of the criminal legal system, such as racism and bias, also infect the child welfare system and particularly affect Black and Native American children, she explains. Sometimes the ACS would remove a child from a rough family situation, and then that child would remain in the welfare system until they were 17 or 18. “It’s the definition of a cycle,” she said, “A clear illustration of the brokenness of the system.”
At first, the emotional toll of her work did make her doubt her vocation. Earlier in her journey, she would have avoided a career that so deeply immerses her in the tragic details of the lives of suffering children and broken families. So, she says, her current pursuit of this vocation “speaks to the Lord’s leading thus far.” Her faith, as well as her coworkers, with whom she “trauma-bonds,” help sustain her.
But Gabrielle still feels the pull of other options within the legal profession. Sydney noted, “She has these ideas of what she wants to do, but you never know what kind of job offers you’ll get.” Gabrielle could go into corporate law, where the pay may be higher and the emotional toll lower. Whatever she ultimately decides, Sydney said, “I don’t think she’s going to do something just for the money. Her internships are a huge indication of where her heart is.”
Leticia agrees: “Gabrielle doesn’t want money and prestige; more than anything she wants to help children and families. She’s willing to forfeit the bigger salary that would wipe out her student debt quickly.”
In contrast to the painful cycles of broken families and broken systems she sees in her work, Gabrielle’s own family has been stable, secure, and whole. She looks to them for inspiration, to remember why she perseveres toward her goal. “I have a real sense of not deserving or earning this stability,” she said. She sees her family as an expression of God’s grace. Due to her own experience, “when people lack physical, emotional, and spiritual stability in their families, I want to work to alleviate that.”
This story is from Emblem VII, our annual magazine. Read the full magazine here