Ariel Allen, CAC AmeriCorps Alum 2014-2015 | Assistant Program Director | Friend & Admirer of THE Kevin Morris
I recently attended my fellow alum, who I served alongside in 2014-15, graduation from law school. Yes, Kevin Morris is one of those painfully exceptional people who is kind, smart, athletic, talented, generous AND – to my amazement- still one of my best friends 4 years later. Sitting with other friends whom we also met through AmeriCorps, we listened and read about his accolades: graduated in the top 20% of his class, over 100 hours of pro-bono work volunteered, immediately rushed to the aid of families in crisis during an immigration raid in a nearby rural community (please watch him SERIOUSLY DELIVER in this video. Preach Kevin. Preach). Only then did we fully realize the magnitude of his accomplishments.
I wanted to take the opportunity to showcase his journey. Sorry it’s taken so long to realize just how amazing its been, Kev. So this is my tribute to him- my good friend- Kevin Morris JD.
When did you serve?
My AmeriCorps service year from 2014-2015 was one of the most influential of my life. It was incredibly introspective and full of life lessons.
Why did you serve and what was it like?
I wanted to do AmeriCorps to take a year off from school to do environmental work. I felt that it was important to give back to my community and help advocate for the environment for at least a year. CAC AmeriCorps offered me a position in Great Smoky National Park and I jumped at the chance. My job was to eradicate invasive plants and treat Eastern Hemlocks for Hemlock Wooly Adelgid. For that year I hiked up and down steep slopes, crossed rivers, persevered heat and cold, yellow jackets, and other elements. It was awesome!
What lessons did you learn?
Frugality was one of the first lessons I learned with the meager AmeriCorps stipend I received. I learned how to get the thousands of calories my body needed while eating healthy, and how to travel to places like New Orleans for Mardi Gras on a shoe string budget.
Viewing the world through a greyer lens instead of black and white ones was also a critical lesson. Things are never black or white. Issues are always more complicated and thus grey. For example, I was not sure whether pesticides were ethical to use prior to AmeriCorps. Over the course of my AmeriCorps service I came to see them as ethical and useful. Without them, killing pests and weeds we dealt with would be otherwise impossible to kill, and the pesticides can be used in responsible ways that do not have a detrimental impact on the environment.
I also learned things about myself. Things like I needed to be more mentally stimulated than I was during AmeriCorps, and that living in the mountains was beautiful but the isolation made me realize how extroverted I am.
What did you do after AmeriCorps?
These lessons were helpful for law school, which is what I did immediately after AmeriCorps and just finished in May 2018. For the three years of law school I lived on a budget similar to AmeriCorps. I could not have done that without having done AmeriCorps first. My school debt has been minimized as a result. The work schedule I had acquired in AmeriCorps was applied to my school work and it made the long hours more tolerable. Lastly, the friends I had made in AmeriCorps were still around while I went through school and I would not have made it without them. Friends made in AmeriCorps are some of the most loving and supportive friends I guarantee you will ever find.
What is the most important thing you learned in law school?
Be nice to people. Be especially nice to secretaries. If you make a secretary mad you are as good as done with that organization. This is true no matter where you go.
What do are your plans now that you graduated?
I plan to join the Navy JAG Corps. Hopefully they will move me all over the world!
What words of advice do you have for incoming members?
I spent a lot of my AmeriCorps year freaking out about what I was going to do next. I wish I hadn’t done that. Try to live in the moment and enjoy the year off. It is okay if you don’t know what you are going to do the next year. If you need another year off, take it. I promise everyone else your age feels the same way.
Also, unless you are super sure you want to go to graduate school for a specific subject, don’t go. It costs a lot of money and drains all of your energy. It is worth it if you have a goal in mind, but it is not the place for people who are unsure of why they are there. Instead go do another AmeriCorps year in something else you find fascinating or get a job that pays you money.
Lastly, Ariel Allen is one of the best friends a person could ask for. She served with me in my term. Be nice to her and she will take care of you**. Same goes for Jason and Nicole.
** Author Note: to be clear the last question asked was “On a scale of 1 – 10, how cool is Ariel?”. Let the record show that Kevin did not answer the question asked of him and that Ariel objects.**
It’s been a long time since our friend left his beloved mountains behind to serve his greater purpose through the law. I seriously couldn’t be more proud of him. This journey of accomplishment isn’t a stand alone. Many of the friends I met in AmeriCorps have gone on to receive graduate degrees or are well on their way to receiving one (Hey, Vanessa De Anda, DJ Robinson, Rayricus Matthews, Emily Barbour, Rebecca Gronewold) . Others have stuck around here in Knoxville and started successful careers (I’m looking at you Emily Reichard, Sammi Stoklosa, Jeryd Greer, Kristen Lawson). One of these amazing folks even works here in this office with me (Shout out to the marvelous Nicole Stephens). Still others found themselves elsewhere doing what they love on the other side of the country or abroad (Yes, I’m talking to you Hanna Jackson, Maura Connolly, Becca Deutch, Rachel Bramblet, Nick Seitler, Lindsey Moorman, BOB!) My point is, AmeriCorps was the starting point for a lot of us on this journey and it’s led us to fulfilling lives that I know I couldn’t have imagined.
Kevin Morris became a lawyer. He survived a year of isolation in mountains serving in AmeriCorps to 3 years of isolation in the libraries of UT Law School. His grit and success is the reason programs like AmeriCorps exist- to build people into their best selves and to give them the experience necessary to make an impression. Kevin was as outstanding an AmeriCorps member as he is friend as he is will be a lawyer. AmeriCorps forged this friendship. That moment sitting in the arena with my wonderful AmeriFriends, watching him walk across the stage, was a profound realization of just how lucky I was to be privy to his journey.
Congrats on this accomplishment and thanks for the continued friendship, Kevin. It’s something I’ll always be thankful to AmeriCorps for because without it, I wouldn’t have a lifetime friendship pass to your legal counsel….
…and wouldn’t have met you. Obviously.
This blog post is a collection of personal reflections and expressions. All opinions represented are those of the author and do not represent the official opinion or views of the Knoxville – Knox County Community Action Committee, CAC AmeriCorps or any other party referenced.