Commencement Ceremony & Reception
- Ceremony: 10 a.m. Friday, May 11, Georgia State Sports Arena, 125 Decatur St., Atlanta, GA 30303
- Reception: Noon-2 p.m. Friday, May 11, College of Law, 85 Park Place NE, Atlanta, GA 30303
He won the lottery. Now he’s graduating from law school—again.
Serge Luhaga (LL.M. ’18), recipient of this year’s Pro Bono Award, graduated from law school and worked as an in-house counsel in his native Democratic Republic of the Congo when the manager of his father’s cybercafé, similar to a “FedEx Office,” urged him to apply online for the United States’ diversity visa.
Immigrating to the United States had never been his goal. He applied on a whim. “I was young, 23,” Luhaga said. “That was October 2003. After meeting the requirements, I landed in America on January 1, 2005.”
Within three weeks, he received his green card and Social Security card. He had to find a job, which he did working with Publix for 12 years. But he wanted to practice law here, even though he faced challenges.
The major challenge was getting his transcript sent to the LSAC office. After 11 years trying long distance, Luhaga traveled to the Congo to get it. In the meantime, he earned a criminal justice degree from Herzing University and added English to his native French and the three African dialects he speaks.
“I selected Georgia State for the flexibility of the LL.M. program,” said Luhaga, “and mostly because my wife is a 2009 graduate.”
His Congo law professors insisted practicing law began while they were students, which meant students dressed for class as they would for the courtroom. Luhaga arrived for class at Georgia State Law dressed in his business clothes amid a sea of T-shirts and shorts.
His expectations of being a husband and a father to his three sons while spending long days pursuing his dream concerned Luhaga. But, he made it work.
Through volunteering Luhaga saw academics become real life. At the Housing Court Assistance Center, he helped people who’ve been evicted understand the charges, file proper responses on the dispossessory papers and be prepared for court.
His Alternative Spring Break volunteering at the Stewart Detention Center opened Luhaga’s eyes.
“The American immigration system seems easy when you just look at the law, but in process, there is so much gray area,” he said. “The major issue was that detainees don’t have the benefit of due process. Many have been there for six months with no representation, and they will agree to anything to get out. Even if they are guilty, they should have fair representation. Most aren’t given that.”
After five years, green card holders can apply for U.S. citizenship, which Luhaga did—with three months to spare.
Noting that his journey has been long but won’t be complete until he is practicing law, Luhaga says he’s been willing to pay the price to reach his dream. “I worked 15 years to put myself in this position.”