Migdalia Iris Nalls, EHS ’97, More Than Just a Lawyer
by Dan Eramian ’66
Her message to EHS students: Dream big
Migdalia Iris Nalls, EHS ’97, is a legal “powerhouse.” She has served with distinction both as a prosecutor and as a public defender for juveniles. Migdalia attributes much of her success to the confidence and support she gained at English High.
“I knew I had to become a lawyer after my experience on English’s Mock Trial Debate team,” she says.
The team was coached by EHS teacher Jerry Howland.
Migdalia began her legal career at the Roxbury Division of the Boston Municipal Court. She was an Assistant District Attorney for Suffolk Country for seven years handling adult criminal felony and misdemeanor cases in Roxbury, and later youthful offender and delinquency cases. She then worked for a U.S Department of Justice program representing low-income victims of domestic violence and family law cases in legal services. Currently Migdalia is a trial Attorney for the Youth Advocacy Division of the Committee for Public Counsel Service. She defends young people charged with delinquent/criminal charges.
A graduate of Boston College and Boston College Law school, she has won numerous awards including the Honan Award of Community Service and Courtroom Excellence at the Suffolk County D.A’s Office, the Agent of Change Award for her commitment to youth by the Massachusetts Housing Authority and a recipient of the District Attorney’s Role Model Award.
Migdalia, grew up in Roxbury and Dorchester. Her family emigrated from Puerto Rico. From humble roots she was the first in her family to go to college. She credits the “bond with her family and challenges she faced growing up in low-income areas of Boston” with helping her stay focused once new opportunities came her way at English High.
She has many fond remembrances of her four years at English. “One of my best memories,” Migdalia says was being a “cheerleader in my freshman year. That year English was the Super Bowl Champion in football. “Being part of the cheerleading team and receiving a superbowl jacket was great fun.” It was one of first times she says she felt like she was part of a community.
But her participation in English’s Mock Trial Debate Course taught by Mr. Howland is her fondest and most important EHS memory. His EHS team won a state championship from the Massachusetts Bar Association Mock Trial Tournament. The course and Mr. Howland’s coaching gave her confidence in her ability to aim high and to succeed and also inspired Migdalia to become a lawyer. The course also increased her writing skills as well as learning how to make effective opening statements, cross examinations and closing arguments
During her role as a prosecutor, Migdalia believed it was important to utilize her discretion reasonably and with ethical responsibility. She moved to defending juveniles and found it was just as important to help them get back on the road to a better life. “Mass incarceration rates are too high,” she says, “and we try to keep young people from slipping in the adult criminal system,” Migdalia passionately explains.
The confidence Migdalia developed at English gave her the confidence she could become a lawyer and was “just as capable as other students.” During her academic years at Boston College Migdalia became very “passionate about social justice issues,” which is exemplified in her current work with juveniles in trouble with the law and in life.
She believes many young people who run afoul of the law come from poor backgrounds, where they lack resources needed to thrive and not enough people are listening to them. “Guilty or not guilty,” Migdalia works with these young people “to see and find a spark in them, something they are good at and interests them.” Migdalia also hires social workers to support them, finds programs for them such as art and music, sports and after school jobs. “I tell them this is still just a hiccup in your life, you can turn it around.”
Migdalia acknowledges that students in urban school systems like Boston face many challenges, but has optimism that we can make the changes necessary to overcome these challenges. Her message to English High students: “Continue to dream big and create a vision for yourselves. Believe in that vision, pursue it and know that you are worthy of it.”
Mike Thomas, President of the English High School Association says, “We are very proud of the accomplishments of our alumna Migdalia and are confident that there are more chapters in her success story to come.”