Lawfully Rising: Melissa Ikawa’s Journey to Success – A Legal Graduate Showcase

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As children, we all harbored dreams of soaring as pilots, healing as doctors, or pursuing whichever profession our imagination led us to. Some have realized those dreams, while others are still on the journey, and a few have charted alternative paths to their career goals.

Melisaa Ikawa’s dream was to become a mathematician. But she struggled with math. Quite ironic, wouldn’t you agree?

Her friends and family thought she was destined for Law school, owing to  her  exceptional debating and speaking skills. Her outspoken nature, always chiming in with topics and engaging in lengthy conversations, seemed to confirm their expectations. And so, after completing her high school education, the opportunity to pursue a Law degree at Strathmore University arose, and she decided to put to the test whether a career in law was truly her destiny.

Life as a Law Student…

It’s hectic”, Melissa starts, echoing a common refrain among law students. But she adds, “But it was an amazing journey, and I absolutely love it!

From her earliest days as a first-year student to the culmination of her fourth year, she found immense joy in immersing herself in the intricate world of legal concepts. Whether delving into case analysis, deciphering statutory interpretations, conducting legal research, or refining her writing skills, each endeavor was a step closer to mastery. Understanding the intricacies of the legal system, courtroom procedures, and effective communication of legal arguments became second nature to her. The International Humanitarian Law (IHL) unit taught by Allan Mukuki was a particular favorite of hers.

Beyond the classroom, she found a unique avenue to apply her newfound knowledge and skills —the Strathmore Law Clinic. Here, she ventured beyond the confines of campus, where was part of a team that trained remandees on cross-examinations, participated in 2022 Legal Aid Week to provide free legal aid, and took on an inmate’s case pro bono. She found great fulfillment in helping the underprivileged navigate the legal system, making these experiences the highlights of her law school journey.

#GoingPlacesWithSU

Remember how her friends and family saw her potential as a skilled speaker? Well, it indeed came to fruition. Mooting was her pathway to #GoPlacesWithSU, and she embraced it wholeheartedly. Participating in moot competitions became an integral part of her daily life, seamlessly blending into her routine. Even when she hesitated to sign up for a competition, her name mysteriously appeared on the roster. This trust often translated into tangible success, with her efforts consistently garnering awards and recognition for the university.

What began as a mere extracurricular activity metamorphosed into a profound love affair—a journey where every argument crafted, every rebuttal delivered, and every victory celebrated, added layers to her passion for advocacy and debate.

With her fervor for International Humanitarian Law, she, along with her teammates Fiona Mwaura and Kanyua Waweru, eagerly joined the ICRC International Humanitarian Law Moot Competition held in Nairobi in June 2022. Their triumph there propelled them to the regional stage in Arusha come November 2022, at the prestigious International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT). And in a twist of fate, she emerged victorious, claiming the coveted title of the competition’s best speaker!

Buoyed by this achievement, she quickly embraced another challenge: The 40th edition Jean Pictet Competition in Feb and March 2023, at Durress Albania. Another global IHL moot competition that propelled her to greater heights as she won the Gilbert Apollis Prize, awarded to the best individual oralists!

In mid-2023, yet another opportunity presented itself: the Nuremberg Moot Competition at the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, Germany, from July 17th to 22nd, 2023. Alongside Fiona Mwaura and Emmanuel Macharia, fellow IHL enthusiasts, she eagerly enrolled. The finals took place in the renowned Courtroom 600, where WWII Nazi war criminals were prosecuted. And yes, they emerged victorious once more! 

And to cap off her four-year journey, 31st Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot Competition (2024) came by and it took her and Albert Macharia and made it to top 16 of 130 teams! Progressing to the next stage,  Melissa Bertilla, Tabitha Munyaka, Sincere Shem, and Ahmad Parpia joined them on their journey as thye proceed to vienna for the final rounds. Their outstanding performances were nothing short of spectacular, leading their team to being one of the three African teams (alongside the University of Lagos and Pretoria) to advance to the elimination rounds—a feat not achieved in Vienna in 30 years. All thanks to their coaches: Fenan Estifanos, Stephen Fleischer, Irene Muhoro, and David Omondi, who have contributed greatly to their success.

*Fun fact: Albert and Emmanuel Macharia are identical twins—sometimes she wonders if they ever try to swap places during competitions, keeping her on her toes like a game of “spot the difference!”

Legally Balanced: Juggling Law Studies, Activities, and Global Adventures

The journey wasn’t without its challenges. While training and preparing for the prestigious 31st Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot Competition, Melissa faced the demanding pressure of exam week. Her dedication was truly remarkable—she completed one exam just before her flight and another immediately upon returning. 

From 6 a.m. training sessions to weekly Saturday meetups for training with the coaches to hopping on the next bus to get to work, all while ensuring her dissertation progressed by two or three pages, Melissa’s days were packed. “It teaches you the art of juggling—balancing the demands of extracurricular activities with the rigorous push of academic responsibilities.”

“Prioritise, purpose, and plan your time well!” She stressed that as a student, you must learn what takes precedence over the other. Which assignments to do and when to do them.

Looking back…

Her four-year journey has been nothing short of amazing. Gratitude wells up within her as she reflects on the depth of her learning and the richness of her experiences. Each challenge faced and milestone achieved has shaped her into the person she is today, and she has no regrets about the path she has taken.

As she prepares to turn the tassel on June 28th, she carries with her a wealth of knowledge, skills and cherished memories amassed in this journey. Standing on the threshold of a new chapter, Melissa is filled with anticipation for what lies ahead. With aspirations of joining the Kenya School of Law and becoming an Advocate, she eagerly looks forward to the opportunities and challenges that await her.

Article written by Jemmy. M. Kamau

What’s your story? We’d like to hear it. Contact us via communications@strathmore.edu

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