Always striving for more

Extraordinary ambition propels ASU honors student toward promising future in law

portrait of a woman in a garden


Editor's note: This story is part of a series of student profiles that are part of our December 2015 commencement coverage.

Deciding on which witty or insightful words to adorn one’s graduation cap with is a rite of passage. Whatever phrase is ultimately chosen will forever memorialize the moment one steps brazenly from one stage of life into the next.

Emma Fleming has got it down to two, and they’re both in Latin.

“The first is ‘vivamus atque amemus,’ which means ‘let us live and let us love.’ It is a line from a beautiful poem by the poet Catullus,” she said.

The second is “per ardua ad astra,” the motto of the Royal Air Force, and it means “through adversity to the stars.”

“I like how they are both quite optimistic and inspirational. My family [experienced] some adversity when we lost my father to cancer a couple of years ago, so it’s nice to think that no matter what you have been through you can still do great things.”

Already majoring in business law at the W. P. Carey School of Business, the Barrett honors student says she fell in love with Latin after a freshman year course inspired her to double major in classics at the School of International Letters and Cultures.

“I thought it would be kind of an interesting major to add because business is very practical but classics is very interesting, so they complement each other nicely,” Fleming said.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Latin also comes in rather handy when specializing in law. While interning this past summer at the Phoenix Federal Bankruptcy Court, Fleming often found herself fielding questions from her boss on legal terms whose Latin origins required further explanation.

That internship solidified her commitment to pursue law as a career.

“I think with law school, you’re really helping the world become a better place; you can be a force for justice in a world that is often unjust. And I think that that’s a really good way to spend your life,” she said.

“Also, when I [interned] this past summer, my boss said that he loves his job because every day, with every new case, he’s learning something new. ... So I want a job where I’ll not only be helping myself to grow and get better, but hopefully be helping the community around me.”

At just 20 years old, Fleming was the first intern for the Phoenix Federal Bankruptcy Court who wasn’t already in law school. By this time next year that will no longer be the case; she has been accepted to several law schools — including ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. She also recently interviewed with Harvard Law School via Skype but won’t hear anything final until January 2016.

All that’s left then is to make a choice.

Before any decisions are made, though, she must graduate. And when she does, on Monday, Dec. 14, she will do so summa cum laude from the W. P. Carey School, as a Dean’s Medalist for the School of International Letters and Cultures and a member of the classics honorary society Eta Sigma Phi.

If that sounds like a lot of honors, that’s because it is. And Fleming has worked hard for them.

For as long as she can remember, she has taken her academic career very seriously. Originally from Scotland, Fleming attended Rancho Solano Preparatory High School in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she was involved in the National Honor Society, student government, Key Club and was the founder of her school’s French club. She also served as her class valedictorian.

In her downtime, she studied ballet, read voraciously and unwound with yoga.

That penchant for a jam-packed schedule followed her to ASU, where she eschewed bouts of leisure for activities like mock trial, eventually serving as the team’s vice president.

“I don’t really like to have a lot of free time, because I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything yet,” Fleming said.

Others may disagree. Upon defending her honors thesis at the end of her junior year, Fleming’s thesis director Pamela HarrisPamela Harris is the assistant division director for Teacher Preparation in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. suggested she see about publishing it due to its unprecedented nature, which consisted of an elementary school Latin curriculum.

“Most Latin curricula are very academic since Latin is such a tricky subject,” Fleming said, “but my Latin curriculum, since it was for elementary school students, had to be quite fun in order to keep them engaged. So every lesson plan had some kind of fun project for them that would also help them practice vocabulary and grammar.”

For a woman of such accomplishment, Fleming comes off as humble and reserved. Diligence, she says, is just something that came naturally from life experience:

“I think growing up in an immigrant family forces you to be independent-minded. ... But mostly, growing up between Europe and America makes you really appreciate the incredible opportunities for upward social mobility that you can find in America. I think the states are much more of a meritocracy, and if you are willing to put in work, you will be rewarded.”

Because she is graduating a semester early, Fleming will have an entire semester to herself before starting law school in the fall of 2016, and she already has plans to keep busy.

The elementary school where she taught Latin for her honors thesis has asked her to continue teaching the curriculum she developed there part-time, and she agreed. Auditing a few classes isn’t out of the question either.

“In ancient Rome, they had an idea called ‘otium,’ which means a temporary leisure in which you focus on reading, writing and studying by yourself. I think I’d like that kind of break, because I know I will be so busy in law school!”

Looking back on her time at ASU, she says what she’ll treasure most are the memories of the people she knew here.

“I’ve studied under some really incredible people at ASU, and I think that’s what you remember. You don’t remember every class you took. You remember the people that were around you,” she said.

People like her Latin professor Lidia HabermanLidia Haberman is an assistant professor of Latin in the School of International Letters and Cultures at Arizona State University., whom Fleming calls “a wonderful professor and a wonderful person.”

And to those undergrads still working their way toward a degree, she bequeaths the following advice:

“One of my accounting professors had a good philosophy on college: You have to treat it like it’s your full-time job. ... So you have to be on time, you have to be prepared. ... And just do your best, because that’s all you can do.”

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