Paraplegic Naval Academy Graduate Pursues Georgetown Law Degree
November 8, 2012 – When Kevin Hillery (L’15) enrolled at the U.S. Naval Academy, he dreamed of eventually becoming a Navy SEAL, one of the U.S. military’s elite special operations forces.
“I just wanted to be a part of something greater than myself,” the Medway, Mass., native says. “I liked the idea of being in the military and then I was always really interested in becoming a Navy SEAL, that was always a dream of mine.”
All that changed in April 2011 after a biking accident left him paralyzed from the waist down.
Hillery and three friends were mountain biking during an adventure race in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley under stormy conditions when a tree toppled over, hit Hillery on the head, rolled down his back and landed on his bike’s back tire.
The tree broke Hillery’s back, severed his spinal cord and sent him airborne over the bike’s handlebars.
“It was a very serious injury, and I would have had no chance of surviving if my three friends weren’t there to save me,” he says. “They were great about taking care of me, got me dry and got help. … I feel pretty lucky that that’s all that happened, honestly.”
After the accident and months of rehab, Hillery focused on heading back to the Naval Academy and graduating.
“That was the first priority for me and obviously that ended up working out fine,” he says. He graduated this past May with a degree in economics.
No longer able to serve in the Navy, Hillery applied and got accepted to Georgetown Law, where he enrolled this fall.
“I was pretty thrilled to get in,” he says. “There are just so many great things about [Georgetown] just being in the center of where everything happens in [Washington, D.C.].”
Pro Bono Work
Hillery says he finds his torts class intriguing because the case readings include “wacky stories that you can’t believe happened,” such as a case in which a 5-year-old boy was considered liable for battery after pulling a chair out from under a woman.
Outside of class, he works one day a week with a Washington, D.C., pro bono program called Advocates for Justice and Education, a parent training and information center dedicated to working with parents about laws governing special education and related services.
“The people there are great, and it’s really an inspiring mission they have fulfilling that work,” he says.
Hillery notes that the work at Advocates for Justice and Education and his law school education tie back into his passion to serve others.
“I always wanted to find a way to serve,” he says. “I feel like my time in the Navy was kind of shortchanged … so now there’s plenty of great ways to have an equally fulfilling career out of law school.”