Elura Christine Nanos ’96
I went to Wesleyan by accident. I'd been permitted by my parents only to apply to schools within three hours of my home in Staten Island, New York. Wesleyan was the highest-ranked college with a great music program that accepted me, so I chose it. I visited on graduation day, 1991...and well... it looked like college. Brick buildings, ivy, professory-looking people. It seemed right, so I chose Wes. I knew almost nothing about the school's personality, and if I had, I'd never have chosen to attend.
When my frosh year started, it took about five minutes for me to realize that I was the only person who hadn't chosen Wesleyan for deeper reasons. Everyone was going on about “social justice”, or “culture of diversity” or “questioning authority”. To be honest, I couldn't have cared less about those things. I just wanted to get away from my hometown, have some fun, maybe read some good books, and get a diploma.
But it didn't take long for everything Wesleyan to work its magic. I loved the encouragement to question the rulemakers and to cultivate my individualism. I embraced the idea that one should look to the source of history just as much as the text. I'd been a life-long big-mouth before going to college. I just had no idea that it was an actual philosophy for which people were out there fighting.
And then, the real lessons came. Wesleyan taught me how to fail. And how to survive when I'm not in the majority. And how to truly achieve excellence. And how to listen to those who are different from me. And to listen to the words that come out of my own mouth. Those lessons served me immeasurably well in law school, in my career and in life.
Early in my legal career, I was at a crossroads. I'd worked in the fulfilling-but-impractical world of public interest and had loved it. Then, I found myself at a highly-paid brass-ring kind of legal job, and was completely miserable. I could have dug in and tried to conform, padding my bank account while I settled into my pinstriped prison.
But I didn't. I created my own path by inventing a new kind of business.
I knew I was good at learning, and I knew I was good at teaching. So I created a business that helped others become good at learning. People -- and in particular, lawyers -- don't usually start careers that they invent. But I did, and it ended up being the best decision I've ever made. My business, Lawyer Up, was the first of its kind, helping law students in innovative and hands-on ways. After a decade of working with law students, I knew I had more to do.
I knew that my understanding of law obligated me to help those who were confused by it. One of the things I learned at Wesleyan was to distrust and ultimately despise boundaries. So it bothered me that many around me were so willing to put one up between themselves and lawyers, as if lawyers held some kind of secret ancient magic. The truth is that lawyers do have a whole stash of knowledge all our own, but that the best among us are willing to share. First, I wrote a book called “How to Talk to Your Lawyer,” which is a handbook for clients to wrangle their attorneys. I also wrote a series of study guides called “Why Don’t They Just Say That: From Legalese to English” which gave law students help without the classic law-school hazing process.
As I became more involved with the entrepreneurial community, I found that people want to learn, particularly about the world around them. And the law surrounds all of us. The more people I met, the more I heard, “you should really be on television.” That certainly sounded appealing, but everyone knows that the entertainment business was one of those “you’ve-gotta-know-someone-on-the-inside” kind of fields. And I didn’t know anyone at all even tangentially involved in that field.
But I’d learned long ago that rules were meant to be questioned. So I Googled, “how do you get a television show” and got some tips. Then, I called some production companies and said “Hi. I’m not sure if I’m asking you to hire me, or if I should be hiring you, but people are telling me that I should be on TV. Do you think you could help me out?” And they did. As it turns out, my blunt, unassuming honesty was all it took. Producers noticed me, networks noticed me, and even Oprah noticed me. “Staten Island Law” – a reality series that shows two lawyer friends working together to solve neighborhood legal problems – was born.
People often ask me where exactly I got the confidence to be so ballsy. My Wesleyan experience is a major part of that confidence. In the same way that we all carry our families with us in all that we do, I carry my college community with me on my journeys. I follow classmates’ updates on the amazing scientific, literary, educational, political, athletic, technological, and artistic accomplishments they have made, and I am so proud to be part of a group that can do so much. I may have chosen Wesleyan accidentally, but it chose me on purpose. And it’s my job to prove that the choice was the right one.
Since the premiere of Staten Island Law in early 2013, I’ve had many exciting opportunities, like appearing on-air with Anderson Cooper, Joy Behar, and Jane Velez-Mitchell. I’m now a regular guest on Sirius Radio Howard 101 and on HuffPost Live. But perhaps the most interesting turn my new television career has taken is that I appear regularly on Fox News, giving legal commentary on various news programs.
I can think of no media outlet less Wesleyanesque than Fox News. It’s corporate, it’s conservative, it’s rule-based and agenda-driven, and it caters to a demographic that would be as out of place on Foss Hill as Birkenstocks would be in a law firm. And that is precisely why I love it there. I have the rare opportunity, as I did back in 1992, to enter a world that isn’t mine. It is from the inside that one can make the biggest difference – just ask the Trojans.
At my graduation from Wesleyan in 1996, our class president, Topher Bellavia gave an inspired speech, during which he cut off his long pony-tail and declared “they will never see us coming!” I like to think I’m proving him right these days.