National Jurist - November 2008 - 17
A law student at last ilbert Ronald Bento applied to law school 26 times. And 26 times he was denied entry. But today he has completed his first year at St. Mary’s University Law School, and is busily in his second year. “Admittedly, getting back into school after so many years as a proBy Paul Hughes fessional was chellenging,” Bento said. “Especially trying is how law school is taught fundamentally.” A lesser man might have gotten the message and concluded that law school just wasn’t in the cards for him. A lesser man might have aimed lower and stopped subsidizing the local Kinko’s or taken up taxidermy. Especially when he was 56 years old. Even Bento, a San Antonio, Texas, resident who had endured the rejections was beginning to take the hint. “To be honest, I was at the end of my rope,” Bento said. But shortly after he was rejected in May 2007, he received an email from St. Mary’s admissions office. “Congratulations! You’ve been selected to ,” the email started. So Bento naturally concluded what anyone in his position might. He thought it was a fake and marched over to the admissions office, where by now he was on a first-name basis with the receptionist. “I said, ‘I’ve been getting these fake e-mails,’” he said. But when she looked it over, she told him it was real. However, his admission hinged on finishing the school’s Summer Skills Program. In July 2007, Bento found himself in an accelerated course on legal theory and American law, taught by Professor Rey Valencia. “It allows us to provide opportunities for people who might not otherwise have been admitted,” Valencia said. “We see something in their profile that can bring them success in law school.” Valencia says two types of students take the Summer Skills Program — people who don’t have the numbers in GPA or LSAT After 26 law school rejections, 57-year-old finishes first year of law school Gilbert Ronald Bento is in his second year of law school at St. Mary’s University Law School. After 26 rejections, he says getting into law school was all about tenacity and commitment. and students who have been out of school a long time. Bento was both. He graduated from Texas A&M in the early 1970s, but says his test scores were “well within the 25 percent end of the applicant pool.” “It was conditional more than competition,” Bento said of the summer program. “We weren’t vying for slots. They said there was room for all of us or for none of us; it was up to us individually to show we deserved to be there.” Bento said it was all about tenacity and commitment — which after almost a decade of trying he’d shown in spades — plus some intelligence and the ability to juggle schedules, work and homework. It’s also part of St. Mary’s re-opening of its evening program. “The faculty decided there was a great deal of value for the school in attracting different applicants,” said Michael Ariens, associate dean for evening legal studies. The value includes attracting more mature students and those with greater November 2008 THE NATIONAL JURIST 17 work experience. Bento is only one semester back from the rest of his class. And for him, it’s not a problem. He plans to take his time and finish after two courses per semester and perhaps one per summer. “Personally, I am very comfortable with this projection,” he said. “It can become overwhelming, but I love being here.” He said his first semester as a fullfledged law student was “extremely scary.” Once a professor looked at him and said, ‘No, that’s the wrong answer,’ he said. “Another time, I couldn’t answer and couldn’t answer and couldn’t answer,” Bento said. “The teacher called on another student, who said exactly what I’d been thinking but couldn’t communicate.” But Bento figures he’s already beaten the odds. After his anticipated 2011 graduation, Bento plans to teach real estate law to commercial agents.