The Long Road Well Traveled

Corey Gray grows from a child farmworker to a decorated soldier, to an accomplished lawyer.

By Catharine Skipp
Special to UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (May 02, 2014) — University of Miami School of Law’s Corey Gray grew up in Palm Beach County, alternating between his mother’s house and grandparent’s farm near the eastern edge of the Everglades. The family grew row crops and from the age of five, everyone was expected to do their part.

In 2004, he began serving five years of active duty, pulling tours in Baghdad, Abu Ghraib, and Kirkuk, Iraq. At the time, his wife, Marissa, was attending Miami Law. He would bring home a Bronze Star Medal, Iraqi Campaign Medal, Combat Action Badge, as he grew from Platoon Leader in the Army 10th Mountain Division, to Company Commander in the Reserves, to his current role as Joint Command Staff Officer at U.S. Southern Command.

Now, at 34, Gray has travelled the world to end up just down the road from his childhood home, graduating from the UM School of Law as an Iron Arrow, and winner of the Thomas Ewald Top Student Litigator Award, Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton.

His military and educational journey began in high school when he joined Air Force JROTC and became involved with a faith-based organization that would provide a world of guidance and comfort, introducing him to the concept of service. As a high school junior, the idea of college entered the picture – something he had never considered before. Gray's church backed him and he was offered a spot at Florida State University. He was a trailblazer in the sense that he would be the first in his family to reach for a higher education but he didn't have the confidence that he could succeed at that level, and instead started at community college before transitioning to FSU, where he would graduate with a Bachelor of Science in History and Political Science in May 2002.

With an eye toward entering politics, Gray went to Washington, D.C. to intern with U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, D-Florida. His grand plan was diverted by the events of 9/11, sending him back to Florida State for graduate school in History and Army ROTC, and then into the U.S. Army.

When Gray returned stateside, he went on reserve status taking command of a reserve unit in October 2009 and was assigned to U.S. Southern Command, where Captain Gray is still an Intelligence Officer in the Foreign Disclosure Office.

"I decided to come to law school in large part because of my experiences during my second deployment," he said. His work in Iraq interfacing between the JAG Corps, military, and civilian population often involved drafting contracts both small and large for schools, bridges, and infrastructure.

“I thought that if I could positively change an environment using the law in a different culture, imagine how I could use law to make a difference back home.

"I knew Miami Law was a place that would allow me to grow as I transitioned from the military to being a full-time citizen and attorney because of the positive experiences my wife had as a law student here when I was deployed," Gray said. “Being an attorney is about sitting down with folks and helping them navigate through tough legal issues; that is a form of service that I can get behind."

Gray is the outgoing editor-in-chief of the National Security and Armed Conflict Law Review and Vice President of the University of Miami Mock Trial Team. He said he is surprised by his interest in pursuing bankruptcy law and credits mentors John Kozak, whose firm Kozak Tropin & Throckmorton provides a minority mentoring program where minority law students are paired with local practitioners; his bankruptcy professor, Patricia Redmond, and local attorney Paul Orshan.

“Corey has all the qualities we are looking for in a future lawyer and a great student,” said Laurence M. Rose, Professor of Law Emeritus and Director of the Litigation Skills Program. “His energy, enthusiasm, creativity and dedication complement his natural intellect to create excellence in and out of the classroom. If you look up leadership in the dictionary you will find Corey Gray's picture.”

With any luck, he said, this time next year he will be Major Gray, have defended his Master's Thesis on the Industrial Modernization in the American Civil War, and is now father to 5-month-old Emma Sophia.

Catharine Skipp can be reached at 305-284-9810.

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