Just Like Us invites speakers, introduces vocational opportunities


Chloe Zhao

Junior Isabella O’Reilly organized the program Just Like Us to connect students from various socioeconomic backgrounds and introduce them to vocational opportunities.

Chloe Zhao and Wilson Bailey

Judge Vanessa Gilmore always had an aptitude for photography, but when a thief broke into her apartment and stole her camera equipment, she discovered her passion for law. After suing her apartment complex for neglecting to investigate the robbery, Gilmore represented herself in the civil lawsuit and won. Thirteen years later, Gilmore became the youngest sitting federal judge in the nation at just 37 years old.

Gilmore’s story was one of the four personal narratives that Breakthrough Houston and SJS students heard on Saturday, Oct. 20, at a program meeting hosted by Just Like Us. According to junior Isabella O’Reilly, who organized the program, Just Like Us aims to break down barriers between students from a spectrum of socioeconomic backgrounds and bring in speakers to introduce vocational opportunities.

O’Reilly founded the program after learning about the Posse Foundation, an organization that selects and trains minority students from less fortunate backgrounds create solutions for complex social problems.

“I realized that not all students have access to internships and mentors,” O’Reilly said.

In order to expose students to a variety of perspectives, O’Reilly invited four influential people from across the legal profession to answer questions about their experiences in the field. The panel consisted of Gilmore, Magistrate Judge Christina Bryan, trial lawyer Derek Hollingsworth and the In-House Counsel for Shell Oil, Carolyn Aiman. 

“They were once just like us too,” sophomore Eliot Aiman said. “No matter where we come from or what school we go to, we can get anywhere.” 

The two-hour meeting began with students playing icebreakers in order to learn each other’s names, common interests and differences, followed by the panel of lawyers, then concluded with a debrief where the students questioned the panelists.

O’Reilly intended the debrief to foster a safe environment for a diverse group of teens.

“By connecting both Breakthrough and St. John’s students on campus, we’re together,” Aiman said. “There’s no St. John’s or Breakthroughwe’re just a group of students.” 

O’Reilly aims for Just Like Us to connect students regardless of their background.

 “Students will benefit from the opportunities. Even though students might not have these connections,” O’Reilly said. “Regardless of how much money you have, you’re benefiting as much as everyone else.”