One of the attendees at this week's Miami Law graduation ceremony rarely missed a class in all his time at law school – but usually slept through them. Sometimes, he would make unsolicited comments during lectures, punctuated by mid-dream snorts.
Sailor, a six-year-old black Labrador Retriever, serves as seeing-eye dog for James "Tyler" Kirk, who lost his sight when he was nine years old. Twenty years later, Kirk is a 2012 graduate of the law school, and is listed among the nation's most distinguished students in the latest Who's Who in American Universities and Colleges.
Had he been consulted, Sailor might have preferred to spend these three years running around in the woods, but Kirk's decision to attend law school came first, its roots back in high school in his home town, Atlanta. "I had an inkling that I wanted to become a lawyer," he said. "I was partly drawn to the respect the job and occupation had with the public, but also you would have command of a very specialized body of knowledge that would set you apart from a lot of other people in society."
After graduating from Georgia State University, where he double-majored in economics and political science, Kirk received a Master's in economics at North Carolina State University. His next educational experience was a month in Morristown, N.J., at the campus of The Seeing Eye, founded in 1929, where Sailor, then two years old, was matched with Kirk. The middle child of an insurance executive and former elementary school teacher, Kirk is tall, handsome and diligent.
At UM's School of Law, he made the Dean's List, was honored in Litigation Skills, and was nominated by his peers as a Miami Law Hero. He also earned a Dean's Certificate of Achievement for his work with the law school's Center for Ethics and Public Service.
As if that were not enough, Kirk had a clerkship at the Miami-Dade County Public Defender's office and an internship at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, where he has been interviewing for a position as a first-year associate.
"Lawyers in today's society need to be multi-modal," said Laurence M. Rose, Professor Emeritus and Director of the Litigation Skills Program. "Although most people rely on their vision, especially in the use of technology, to assimilate information, the modern lawyer must also utlilize their other senses to assist in the process of speaking on behalf of others. While dealing with his disability, Tyler has learned to concentrate on his other abilities in order to perceive information, improve his memory and capitalize on his personality to represent his client, and his success as a law student is clearly predictive of his future excellence as a lawyer."
Wherever Kirk ends up, Sailor is sure to be at his side. "He's been a trooper," Kirk said. "I couldn't be more proud to have him with me everywhere I go."
Watch a video interview with Tyler.