I think I first met Connie Postelli at the Indiana State Bar Association’s Women in the Law Bench Bar Retreat. It may have been at the very first one, maybe in 2001. I was a brand new lawyer and didn’t know a soul there. In fact, I sat down next to the Hon. Melissa May and asked, “So where do you work?” Total facepalm.
Connie struck me almost immediately as a powerful presence. She was friendly and approachable. Confident. As a young lawyer, I was particularly taken with the fact that her firm, her own firm, represented major automobile companies. She would say she started her own firm because she was tired of playing with boys. I remember that she had been a massage therapist and a hula dancer and that she told me an ill-fitting bra could be the cause of my back pain. I was a little smitten. She had clients who were incredibly powerful yet had incredibly diverse experiences.
I saw her at the same retreat every year, and then one year she mentioned she was joining the Peace Corps. She said she had enough stuff and wanted to make a small difference in the world.
Here is someone who successfully pursued the practice of law on her own terms and then turned her skills toward an area of service. And service is what drove her to the law in the first place, but, in the end, it wasn’t enough.
Connie started practicing in 1998, driven by a desire to make a dent in the injustice around the world and influenced, like so many of our colleagues, by “To Kill a Mockingbird.” A bit more than 10 years in, she began teaching English as a second language at her local library. The small difference she felt she was making blossomed into a desire to have a farther reach. A friend planted a seed about the Peace Corps, and Connie eventually applied. The application process took 15 months, and only about 30 percent of those who apply are accepted into the program. She told them to assign her where she was most needed. Assigned as a teacher in the Ukraine, Connie served from September 2011 until December 2013. By February 2014, the U.S. Peace Corps had been evacuated from the Ukraine due to the conflict with Russia, which tragically resulted in the death or disappearance of some of Connie’s students.
Connie planned to return to the practice of law but did not successfully transition back. She had left a country fighting for freedoms and opportunities we Americans take for granted, and re-assimilating to our culture was not easy. Within a year, Connie determined that international volunteer service was again what she needed to do. With the NGO WorldTeach, Connie went to teach 10th grade in Hunan, China. After a year, she accepted a position at Shanghai Ocean University for one year, and now she teaches English at Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
“Law changes how you think, as well as how you see the world,” Connie says. “It helps to give a multi-dimensional approach to any problem.” In the Ukraine, she started an English-language movie library that eventually grew to 300 movies, starting with a donation of 50 law-related movies thanks to Martinsville attorneys and now-retired Morgan Superior Judge Jane Spencer Craney Weaver. With each movie, Connie included a summary, a list of main characters and vocabulary words. Using movies, a medium enjoyed across all cultures, Connie found a unique way to help her students, and those who came around long after she was gone, improve their English skills and cultivate a better understanding of American culture.
Of course, Connie’s skills as a lawyer naturally led her to be sought out for guest lectures on the American legal system at the law school. And since legal training and experience provides many of us with decent public speaking skills, Connie was also invited to lecture at various international conferences (on economics and education, for example). The skills gleaned from learning and practicing law in America translated well into finding unique solutions to teaching methods and sharing her knowledge with others around the world.
“In Ukraine, and even more so in China, students see only one right answer to any problem. One of my jobs is to help them see there are often several right answers — and even more right questions.”
While Connie has not yet returned to the practice of law, and quite frankly may never do so, she has gained lessons from her international teaching work that would serve her well if she did. The Peace Corps, she reports, has taught her to be flexible and find solutions in the midst of problems and significant needs. It has also taught her how to get a lot accomplished with few resources.
It has also become clear to her how much we have in America, and how little of that there is elsewhere in the world. The United States “truly is that shining light on a hill that beckons the world. And the world needs us to be that light, that example. If we lose that, the world loses. There is truly no other country that can take our place in the world. It is far too easy for us to take that light and that freedom for granted.”•
• Amy Noe Dudas — [email protected] — is the founder of Dudas Law and co-founder of Dudas Inspiration Venue for the Arts in Richmond. Opinions expressed are those of the author.