From BMCC to the Air Force JAG Corps and a Career in International Humanitarian Law

Alumnus Jordan Michel in 2008 at BMCC Commencement (L) and speaking at George Washington University Law School commencement (R) in May 2022.
Alumnus Jordan Michel in 2008 at BMCC Commencement (L) and speaking at George Washington University Law School commencement (R) in May 2022.

October 27, 2022

Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) alumnus Jordan Michel (Business Management, 08) had dreams of becoming a veterinarian while growing up in Clarendon, Jamaica, where his grandfather worked in a sugar cane factory while his grandmother sold fruit she grew in their garden.

Instead, Michel took a winding, sometimes challenging path from Jamaica to New Jersey where eventually, he found his way to BMCC, which set him on an academic journey to George Washington University Law School. There, he served as Student Bar Association President and was recognized with the Pro Bono Service award for outstanding work in the public interest, as well as the Justice Thurgood Marshall Civil Liberties award for outstanding performance and dedication to the field of civil rights and civil liberties.

Jordan graduated law school on May 15, 2022 and is awaiting his assignment as an officer in the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG). He hopes to go on active duty in March 2023.

“I’ll be a lawyer for the air force,” said Michel who is currently based in Arlington VA. “It’s my dream job. I’ve always wanted to focus on international and humanitarian law and the air force is a great place to do it, I’ll be on the ground for all of it. The JAG Corps is super competitive. The air force only accepts around 100 lawyers into JAG Corps each year.”

The journey from Jamaica to New Jersey

Michel first came to the United States in 1999 when he was 13 years old. He hadn’t seen his mom in four years. She had come to United States, overstayed her Visa and was living in Bergenfield, New Jersey working as an au pair.

“The two of us didn’t want to let each other go, so I ended up staying,” said Michel who subsequently, overstayed his Visa as well.

At just 16, Michel graduated high school. He then applied to Seton Hall University where he received a debate scholarship. When the university started asking for his documentation, including his social security number, he went to his mom and asked where to find it.

“It was 2002, just after the events of September 11, 2001, and I learned I was undocumented,” said Michel. “I was devastated. I felt powerless. At that point, I thought about applying to schools in England because of what my Jamaican citizenship would enable there. But I’d made a life for myself here. The idea of going back to Jamaica or starting over alone in England was devastating. And, I didn’t want to leave my mom again.”

He ended up coming to New York City, worked odd jobs, and eventually started a small nightlife promotion business. He applied and was accepted to Pace University in lower Manhattan, but because he was undocumented, he couldn’t get any financial aid. He tried paying his own way, but after a semester, he’d run out of money.

“But I knew in my mind that I absolutely had to go to school,” he said.

Finding his way to BMCC

Michel’s mom heard about BMCC from a friend who told her about all the support services the college offered to its students, including resources for immigrant students.

In 2006, Michel applied to BMCC and then enrolled as a Business Management major.

“I figured since I was running a small business, it was relevant to my life at that point,” he said. “And then I met people like Vice President of Student Affairs Marva Craig, and former ASAP Director Lesley Leppert who provided so much encouragement.”

Michel was also named an Out in Two Scholar, a presidential cohort-based scholarship program that offers financial support, a dedicated academic advisor, trips to senior colleges as well as New York City excursions to cultural enrichment events such as Broadway shows and museums.

“I’d never been to a Broadway show or a pro-baseball game, we also went to the New York Stock Exchange and toured the floor,” said Michel. “To experience New York City, as part of my education was invaluable.”

Out in Two also allowed him to step back from the demands of his small business and focus fully on his studies. During this time, he began to appreciate the dedication of his BMCC professors even more.

“We’re a community college, but our professors are from New York University, Columbia and Pace, and they choose to come to BMCC,” said Michel. “Something I saw at BMCC that I haven’t seen as much in other institutions, the professors are just so happy to be there.”

Although Michel had started out wanting to become a veterinarian, an Introduction to Business class at BMCC where discussions focused on group think helped changed his mind. Later, he took a Sociology course taught by Prof. Jack Estes and fell in love with the subject matter. At that point, he decided he would go to Hunter College (CUNY).

The road to law school in Washington D.C,

After graduating from BMCC in 2008 and getting accepted to Hunter, life took its turns and Michel took some time off from school and worked, then got married and by 2017 he had become a U.S. citizen. It was at that point, at age 31, he decided it was time to reapply and enroll at Hunter College where he majored in Sociology with a minor in Political Science & Linguistic Anthropology.

“I started exploring inequity and how language drives inequity,” said Michel. “I had just gotten my citizenship in 2017 and I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to find ways to help people.”

During this time too, Michel was working on local political issues in northern New Jersey and he began to realize that a lot of social issues are deeply impacted by law.

“Law codifies inequity,” said Michel. “I decided I’m going to go to law school because I want to fix things, and law was the way to do it.”

He was accepted to the George Washington Law School in Washington D.C. and, in his first year there, started training with the U.S. Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) based at Howard University.

Jordan Michel in his uniform in Washington D.C.
Jordan Michel in his uniform in Washington D.C.

“My goal is to do at least ten years with the Air Force,” said Michel. “My long-term goal is to continue working in international humanitarian law. The military provides a certain credence in the humanitarian law space. I’ll be able to advise commanders on the ground. And, it’s one thing to walk into the room as Jordan Michel Esquire (Esq), it’s another to walk into that same room as Lt. Col. Jordan Michel, even if I’m no longer serving on active duty.”

Longer term, Michel plans to work as an attorney in the U.S. State Department and eventually move over to the diplomatic branch, perhaps even the United Nations.

And he says he owes a lot of it too BMCC.

“At the time, BMCC was not my first ideal choice for college,” said Michel. “But once I got there, I realized I was getting the same if not a better education than what I might have gotten had I waited until I could afford New York University, Pace or some other school.”

He says individuals considering BMCC should just do it.

“My grandpa used to tell me, if you really want something you can get it, and if you can’t do it today, maybe you’ll do it tomorrow, maybe you’ll do it three weeks from now, maybe it will be a year,” said Michel. “But if you really want it, it’s not too late to start and it’s not too late to get it.”

He says there is endless opportunity at BMCC, especially for students finding their way in New York City.

“The people who I met, the professors who helped me along the way and encouraged me at BMCC, I wouldn’t be where I am today without all of them.”

New York City Subway Ad
Note- In 2007, Jordan Michel was part of an advertising campaign for BMCC. Some of the ads, featuring Michel, appeared on the New York City subway.
  • Jordan Michel moved to U.S. at age 13 to join his mother
  • Michel was accepted to Seton Hall University, but because of his immigration status, couldn’t afford to attend
  • Michel awaiting assignment in Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps

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