Hard work paid off – Donald Cobb traded in his military uniform for the SIU School of Law. Three years later, Cobb, of Scott City, Mo., will speak on behalf of the Class of 2018 at commencement exercises at 3 p.m. Friday. (Photo by Russell Bailey)
May 09, 2018
Cobb’s perseverance, tenacity leads to law degree
CARBONDALE, Ill. — In a span of 72 hours in August 2015, Donald Cobb went from Stuttgart, Germany, where the U.S. Army medic had just retired from the military to being an incoming first-year student at the SIU School of Law.
Cobb arrived with no books and no car, while his family was still in Germany. He just had his clothes and a rescue dog named “Boon” the family picked up while they were stationed for six years in Guam.
What followed was three years of hard work and perseverance – and a law degree. Cobb, who lives in Scott City, Missouri, and 97 other members of the law school’s Class of 2018, will graduate at 3 p.m., Friday, in SIU Carbondale’s Shryock Auditorium.
Cobb will serve as class speaker during the ceremony.
Law school is “difficult, not impossible”
Recalling his arrival on campus, Cobb, 47, admits that he did not know what to expect. What he found, however, were faculty, staff and classmates who were willing to help and give Cobb “every opportunity to succeed.”
Before his car was shipped from Germany and his family arrived a few months later, Cobb borrowed a friend’s car for the 90-minute drive between Chaffee, Missouri, and Carbondale to attend class.
“It was the worst possible scenario,” said Cobb, recounting his arrival from Germany. “I don’t know how I made it. But the school worked with me. They were wonderful. Nobody is ever going to come to SIU law and say ‘I didn’t make it because nobody would help me.’ That’s just factually incorrect.”
Cobb’s 22-year military career included active duty, National Guard and reserve commitments. His career included tours in Germany, Montenegro, Guam, two tours in Iraq, Kosovo and many stateside assignments where he earned numerous military awards.
Between military activations, Cobb was a civilian police officer, working in both Chaffee and Scott City, where he was police chief from 2002 to 2008.
Decision to attend law school came from desire to help a friend
Cobb made the decision to get a law degree when he learned a soldier he had served with in Iraq was having problems receiving help for serious wounds the soldier received in the second battle of An Najaf in 2004.
“At the time, we were having a lot of young soldiers who were coming back from Iraq. He was my soldier and I just didn’t feel he was getting the benefits that he needed,” Cobb said. “We have since that time gotten him to a better place.”
Cobb said he’s since learned that a key to addressing veterans’ benefits and other issues is “knowing where to interact” with Veterans Affairs. He wants to carve out a part of his practice to help junior enlisted military personnel and veterans who are experiencing similar issues.
Speaking for the class is “such an honor”
“I appreciate it so much because I have so little in common with many of my classmates. “I am literally the same age as some of my classmates’ parents,” Cobb said. “But it never mattered. To them, I was just ‘Donny.’ In study groups or whatever cohort, it just never mattered.”
Cobb will take his Missouri Bar Exam in July and has accepted a position with Moss & Cooper attorneys in Cape Girardeau, where he will work with his mentor, attorney and City Judge Allen Moss.
‘A leader among his classmates’
Christopher Behan, law school acting dean, said Cobb has “distinguished himself as a leader among his classmates.” Cobb has a “special gift for lifting up his fellow students and helping them see and achieve their potential.”
While in law school, Cobb actively helped other veterans make that transition to law school, and worked with campus and community organizations to help his classmates find resources and navigate the academic and social environment of the law school, Behan said. The 294-student law school has 30 veterans among its students.
Ability to balance law school and personal commitments is a model to others
Given his extensive military background, Cobb was well positioned to help make the law school a “different place,” Melissa Marlow, a clinical professor of law, said. Cobb’s ability to balance school and personal commitments is a model to veterans in academia and practicing attorneys, she added.
“He certainly did that through his unflinching work ethic, his treatment of his peers, service to the school and community on a variety of levels, and the professionalism he demonstrated throughout his law school career,” she said.
A ‘selfless and humble nature’
“There are so many students who are bright and involved but Donald has the ‘heart’ the profession so desperately seeks,” Marlow said.
“Often times I remind my students that it’s not about you, and ‘check your ego’ at the door,” Marlow said. “Donald never needed that gentle reminder, as his life speaks of a selfless and humble nature, and of responding to a call higher than himself -- first to his country, and now to the individuals and causes he will serve as a lawyer.”
Wasn’t sure he would make it in law school after the first three weeks
Cobb readily admits he had doubts early on. He credits a teaching assistant in a first-year property class for helping him understand the basic concepts of how lawyers write by using a “Jack and Jill” IRAC (issue, rule, assessment, conclusion) to give him a “toe hold” of what to expect.
Marlow and Angela Upchurch, a law professor, also were vital to his success, as were other faculty, Cobb said. He spent 12 to 14 hours a day at the law school, meeting with faculty early in the morning and late at night. Never once did Cobb reach out to a faculty member and not receive a response, he said.
“Law school is not easy. But they offered me every opportunity to succeed,” Cobb said. “After that first few months, after I got my feet under me and understood what the expectations were, I had nothing but a great experience.”
Support from his family was vital
Cobb said he is grateful for support from his wife, Teresa, and the couple’s three children, Joshua, Caleb and Ruth. Joshua, 22, is an electrical engineer; Caleb, 19, is in the U.S. Navy; and Ruth, 12, lives at home.
“My kids aren’t small any more but life doesn’t stop when you go to law school,” he said. “You still have volleyball games and cheerleading practices and responsibilities. There is nobody who can come to law school without some kind of support network.”
Sees great things ahead for classmates
While some of his classmates are about as young as Cobb’s oldest son, age was never a factor due to the number of non-traditional students who return to law school, he said. What mattered, he added, was succeeding.
“There are people in this class who are going to do great things,” he said. “There are young people in this class who are brilliant and who are going to do great things.”