First-year students Simeon Daferede and Kylie Mignat are this year’s recipients of the Virginia Public Service Scholarships, a full-tuition award given to University of Virginia School of Law students who are pursuing public service careers.

Daferede, whose first name is pronounced “Simon,” graduated from the University of Chicago with a major in political science. Most recently, he worked as a project associate at the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago, where he helped research and develop projects to address youth homelessness and improve the child welfare system. While in college, he gained experience on both sides of the criminal justice system through internships with the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia and in the Cook County and Miami-Dade state’s attorneys’ offices.

Mignat, who graduated from the University of Scranton, triple-majored in German cultural studies, Hispanic studies and Latin American studies. During and after her graduate studies at New York University, where she earned a master’s in Latin American and Caribbean studies, Mignat worked as a paralegal at the New York office of Kids in Need of Defense, primarily to help unaccompanied minor children seek legal status in the United States. Between college and graduate school, she worked as a bilingual paralegal advocate to help victims of domestic abuse and human trafficking.

“Simeon and Kylie have shown a fierce commitment to protecting and defending some of the most vulnerable members of our communities,” said Leah Gould, assistant dean for public service and director of the Mortimer Caplin Public Service Center. “Simeon’s service to homeless youth in Chicago and Kylie’s advocacy for unaccompanied minor asylees in New York are just a few examples of the experiences they bring to the Law School.”

Attending the University of Chicago was a “culture shock” for Daferede, who had grown up in Winter Haven, Florida, with unstable housing situations and witnessing beloved community members cycle in and out of the criminal justice system.

“My classmates were pretty affluent and able to go back home and live regular lives, and not have to take on jobs in order to pay for their education and help support their family,” Daferede said. “I just simply had to go back to a very different world, and after seeing the inequities that my family and communities faced, I wanted to help others by pursuing a legal career.”

Through his internships and his research experience on youth homelessness, Daferede began to understand the systemic problems working against people living at the margins of society.

“I saw many people who were facing incarceration, whether it be from criminalizing homeless youth for squatting or being at the wrong place at the wrong time, or families whose kids were being separated from them because they happened to have a partner under investigation for a drug charge,” Daferede said. “I want to work with others who are doing the hard work to undo the effects of many years of systemic injustices.”

Mignat’s worldview was shaped by one unaccompanied 17-year-old migrant named Enrique. He was the subject of a book she read, “Enrique’s Journey,” at the height of the unaccompanied minors crisis at the U.S. southern border.

“I was really surprised to learn that there were so few resources available to unaccompanied minors and just generally to immigrants,” Mignat said. “That’s really what drew my attention to law and that’s how I ended up switching my major to international studies.”

At Kids in Need of Defense, she worked with a teenaged asylum seeker who had been abused by her relatives in Central America, building the girl’s trust in order to elicit the details that would solidify her asylum claim.

Mignat was attracted to UVA Law, in part, because of its work in children’s rights, including the Youth Advocacy and the Holistic Youth Defense clinics, as well as the interdisciplinary studies offered by the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy.

Daferede also cited the clinical programs as well as the school’s emphasis on providing financial support for public service careers. The Innocence Project, the Criminal Defense Clinic, the Appellate Litigation Clinic and the Project for Informed Reform all held special appeal for him.

Mignat is fluent in Spanish and German, and has elementary knowledge of Russian and K’iche’, a Mayan language of Guatemala. (Her master’s thesis was about the pressure on Guatemalan indigenous youth to emigrate, and she hopes to continue studying the language at UVA.) She sings soprano and karaoke.

Daferede is fluent in French and proficient in Spanish. His musical interests lie with piano, drums, guitar and viola.

The scholarships were launched in 2017 and funded in part with flagship endowment funds established by Tim ’83 and Lynne Palmer, Dave Burke ’93, and Ted ’92 and Keryn Mathas in honor of former professor Bill Stuntz ’84. They are awarded to two or more first-year students based on their commitment to working as public service lawyers immediately after graduation, their academic excellence and their leadership potential.

Public service scholarship recipients are admitted automatically to UVA Law’s Program in Law and Public Service, which offers intensive training to a select group of students seeking to work in the public interest. The program began 12 years ago under the guidance of now-UVA President Jim Ryan ’92, a former professor and vice dean at the Law School.

Previous Public Service Scholars

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.