Lina Machado Bejarano walks the halls of the College of Law, proudly wearing a black v-neck T-shirt with the word “Lawtina” on the front—the letter “t” represented by the scales of justice. She’s excited after completing her first week as an extern with the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office, getting her one step closer to her dream of becoming a litigator. She’ll graduate in December.
Machado-Bejarano’s journey to law school has been one of many steps, starting with leaving Colombia in the late 2000s and seeking asylum in the United States. Late nights bussing tables and cleaning houses—and not speaking English beyond the word “bathroom”—made finishing college seem impossible.
But, she found resources to learn English and later got her associate’s degree from the Georgia State Dunwoody Campus. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in political science from Georgia State University and became the first person in her generation of the family to graduate from college.
While working on her undergraduate degree, she got involved with Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR). Machado-Bejarano always had an affinity for community organizing and youth empowerment, so it was a natural fit. There, she conducted Know Your Rights workshops for immigrants and ran the internship program.
“Working at GLAHR made me realize that there are people who had it way worse than me,” she says. “I came here by plane; I did not cross a river, desert or hide and run trying to get here. I got really into immigration and human rights defense, which is what made me want to go to law school.”
Machado-Bejarano applied to Emory University, Georgia State and the University of Georgia, and chose Georgia State because of the school’s dedication to diversity. She recalls, “during undergrad, I was never the only person in the room with an accent.” At the College of Law, she’s found a community of other Latina attorneys who she says have encouraged her to keep going.
“There’s a sense of community here,” she says. “Students are so invested in other students’ success. Faculty and staff are invested. I have been treated with love and respect by everyone. People care. Georgia State not only advertises that, they have it.”
Her favorite classes have been Advocacy and Advanced Criminal Litigation, the latter she says helped her improve her language skills and boosted her confidence in her ability to present in a courtroom setting. She has also pursued internships at Project South, earned a public interest law fellowship and teaches Spanish in Georgia State’s World Cultures and Languages department.
After graduation, Machado-Bejarano hopes to marry her interests in immigration and criminal law as a litigator. But at this point, graduating is the success she counts as sweetest.
“I was able to do this against all odds,” she says. “I tell students ‘If I can do it, anyone can do it.’ I did something that some people who [are native English speakers] can’t do: get in here to pursue a J.D. It’s not easy, but it’s so much fun.”
Written by Kelundra Smith