Ohio Supreme Court Justice Melody Stewart ’88 offered some words of advice to Cleveland State University Cleveland-Marshall College of Law student Hailey Hillsman and her soon-to-be husband Derek Kuhlman.
“Be aware that the path you’re going down might not be the path that you’re supposed to go down and be open to redirection.”
Thankfully the couple can say confidently that they are open to redirection and have a willingness to adapt in an undesired situation. Otherwise the pair would not have been standing in downtown Cleveland on a sunny May afternoon as Justice Stewart pronounced them husband and wife.
A Georgia native, Hailey had spent six years teaching high school science before deciding to attend law school. She met her now husband Derek after getting randomly matched with him virtually in a video game queue.
For some time, the couple was planning to be married on May 20 by a wedding officiant on the New York side Niagara Falls. Both were excited about the prospect of having the huge water fall as the backdrop for the ceremony and photographs.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of those original wedding plans. Hailey and Derek were willing to get married at the courthouse with a small ceremony but learned that due to the pandemic their local courthouse was only issuing marriage licenses and not performing ceremonies.
Hailey began looking for an officiant to marry the couple and turned to her law school for help. She remembered that CSU C|M|LAW Dean Lee Fisher had reached out and welcomed students to contact him with any issues or concerns they were facing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Joking now that she took his offer a bit too literally, Hailey reached out to Dean Fisher and CSU C|M|LAW’s associate deans to see if they could use their contacts to help her find a judge who would officiate the ceremony. Her only requirement was that the judge would be Cleveland-Marshall graduate, as she wanted the law school she already felt so connected with to be part of her wedding day.
“Dean Fisher often says, ‘Cleveland-Marshall is your law school for life.’ and that saying is absolutely true,” explained Hailey. “The deans and the faculty care about us beyond our performance in the classroom. They recognize that we are real people with lives outside of the walls of our law school. It extends to learning about our interests, our families, and who we were before we became Cleveland-Marshall students. There is a sense of community at our law school that is so unique and special.”
Only a year into law school, Hailey has already integrated herself in the Cleveland-Marshall community. She is Editor of the school’s newspaper, The Gavel, and an Associate on the Cleveland State Law Review. She is also a Dean’s Leadership Fellow and Treasurer of the Federal Bar Association. Beyond CSU C|M|LAW, Hailey is a Peggy Browning Fellow with the SMART Union and a Board Member of Ms. JD, national non-profit organization dedicated to the success of women in law schools and the legal profession.
Dean Fisher jumped on Hailey’s request and reached out to Justice Stewart who agreed to officiate the wedding ceremony. When Dean Fisher informed Hailey of this, she was ecstatic. Hailey had been secretly hoping it would Justice Stewart conducting her ceremony. She looks up to Justice Stewart as a role model, recognizing their shared love of music and education and the similar experiences they had in urban educational settings.
“Everything Justice Stewart has accomplished is incredible, and I am humbled and better for having the privilege to cross paths with her,” said Hailey. “Derek believes that having her there represented my goals because she is such a strong, successful woman in the legal field.”
The initial plan was to conduct a virtual wedding over Zoom but that was quickly altered. Justice Stewart was accommodating and on May 23, Hailey, Derek and Justice Stewart gathered next to First Energy Stadium with their family and friends looking on at the proceedings via Facebook Live. The modified wedding ceremony went off without a hitch.