May 11, 2016
A Chicago native and University of Georgia graduate, Alexis Ruiz (L ’16) is the first Latina to serve as Tulane Law School’s Student Bar Association president.
Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano
As a teenager in Georgia, Alexis Ruiz considered a career in marine biology. But life kept steering her toward the legal profession.
While spending a high school summer in Mexico with a poor family on a mango plantation, Ruiz, a member of the Tulane Law School Class of 2016, was dismayed by the disparity between their living conditions and the opulence enjoyed by local drug traffickers.
After college, as a White House intern and then a staffer on President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, she saw the passion and credentials of people around her and, she said, “I needed to keep up.”
Later, Ruiz’s work on immigration policy for the United Auto Workers connected with the challenges her family had faced: her father had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally but gained legal status through a 1986 law endorsed by then-President Ronald Reagan; her mother overstayed a visa and wasn’t able to become legalized until 2009.
Ruiz, who was working at Yellowstone National Park when her mother finally was able to travel outside the United States and return legally, bought her a ticket to visit family in Mexico she hadn’t seen for 13 years.
“I want to practice immigration law because my parents have gone through so much trauma and difficulty,” said Ruiz, who was born in Chicago and moved to Georgia at age 7 with her mother and two sisters. She graduated from the University of Georgia.
At Tulane, Ruiz has built leadership skills along with her legal training. As Student Bar Association president (the first Latina to hold the post) and a member of the Dean’s Advisory Committee, she’s served as a voice for students and built trust with administrators. She also helped spearhead a Class of 2016 fundraising drive that has reached a record 75 percent participation, with all proceeds going to need-based scholarships.
Assistant Dean of Students Abby Gaunt said Ruiz “rolls up her sleeves” to find solutions, and her ability to build consensus among people with widely varying viewpoints has “earned her the respect and admiration of the entire law school community.”
“Alexis is conscientious, professional and enormously engaging, with an uncommon intellectual maturity that sets her apart from her peers,” Gaunt said.
The law faculty elected Ruiz to receive the General Maurice Hirsch Award, which is presented each year to the graduating law student who has contributed most distinctively and constructively to university or community needs.
Ruiz said she was warned against attending law school because of the debt and uncertain job market, but she’s found the camaraderie with classmates, even in a pressure-filled atmosphere, “a very positive experience.”
Law school, she said, “opens doors of opportunity you didn’t know existed before.”