Celia Pistolis

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BA 1978, Classics with Honors
Litigation Director, Legal Aid of North Carolina

I am a double Tar Heel with a bachelor’s in Classics and Juris Doctor from Carolina Law.  I am currently the litigation director of Legal Aid North Carolina, a nonprofit that provides free legal help to low-income North Carolinians in civil cases, primarily those involving domestic violence, safe housing and public benefits.  My role is to oversee the organization’s major cases before the state’s highest courts.  I am privileged to have been a legal aid attorney for my entire professional career, and I love my work.

When I came to Carolina as a freshman in 1974, I knew that I wanted to be a lawyer.  This gave me the luxury of pursuing any major.  Frankly, I was considering an English degree.  So why did I, a native of Tarboro, N.C., and the daughter of Greek immigrants, choose Classics?  My Connor dorm advisor was a Classics professor, Cynthia Dessen, who suggested that I take an introductory Classics course as an elective.

I took her advice and signed up for my first Classics course.  I was hooked.  The classes were small, I was taught by wonderful professors–not graduate students–who had open doors and did not limit their availability to office hours.  Professors wanted to talk with students and answer questions.  They were very encouraging to a student like me, who never even studied Latin in high school, much less ancient Greek.  For example, the department chair at the time, Professor Phillip Stadter, would invite graduates and undergraduates to his home for play readings.  We would each read a part and then all discuss the characters and the story.  That type of intimate learning environment was truly special and epitomized my experience as a Classics major.  There continues to be a genuine esprit de corps between undergraduates and professors in the department, thanks to the small class sizes and engaging professors.

Learning ancient Greek, translating ancient texts and studying an ancient civilization taught me to think critically, a skill I use every day in my work when analyzing the facts of a case and the relevant law.  My professors also taught me to keep an open door for my colleagues who want to discuss their cases.  My time in Murphey Hall was truly well spent, so when I am asked, “What is a BA in Classics with Honors?” I am proud to explain.  If you want small class sizes, engaging professors and the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills that will serve you well in whatever career you choose, then learn more about a Classics degree from UNC.

November 2016