Paying It Forward
Sometimes the most incidental circumstances can change your life. Daniel A. Kittle’s fortune turned when he became a resident assistant (RA) at Michigan State University. At the time, he never would have imagined that taking the job would lead him to law school.
A sports enthusiast, Kittle longed for a career in sports news. He studied journalism at Michigan State University, wrote for a variety of sports Web sites and worked as a sports writer for the local newspaper. To help cover expenses, he became an RA — and found himself assigned to work in the same dorm as Rachel Wixson. The two RAs dated throughout their junior and senior years. Following graduation, Wixson (JD’08) enrolled in law school at Willamette University, and Kittle headed off for a two-year stint in the Peace Corps.
Kittle traveled to Shagym, a small village of 1,000 people in the Kyrgyz Republic, where he taught English and coached basketball in a local school. “There was no running water in the village, so we hauled water to the homes on donkeys and took baths out of buckets,” he explained. “Everywhere you went was cold and drafty. I wore long underwear and a heavy coat even while teaching.”
While in Shagym, Kittle received a small projects assistance grant to repair several classrooms and create new learning spaces at the school. Renovating the lunchroom proved to be the most daunting project. “The kids ate in a room with dirt floors, crumbling walls and haphazard tables,” he said. “We put in a floor and windows and fixed up a kitchen area so the cooks actually had a working
stove for preparing warm food.”
Kittle and Wixson stayed in touch throughout his time in Kyrgyzstan. “She told me all about Willamette and said I’d like law school since it involves so much analytical thinking,” he said. “I knew I wanted to make a broader impact on people’s lives, so I applied to several schools. I chose Willamette after attending a student-sponsored event with Rachel. I really liked the professors and the close-knit feel of the school.”
Kittle, who served as 1L class president last year, said his classmates are all highly supportive of one another. “Even when we competed in the first-year appellate competition, we all swapped briefs when we switched sides,” said Kittle, who won the competition. “There’s really a good dynamic among the people in my class.”
Since coming to Willamette, Kittle has immersed himself in the law. In addition to serving as a research assistant to Professor Jeffrey C. Dobbins and Dean Symeon C. Symeonides, he has started working in the Special Litigation Unit of the Oregon Department of Justice. “At the DOJ, I research complex legal topics for cases where there’s not much legal precedent,” he said. “I’ve gotten a lot of experience working on really interesting cases.”
Heading into his second year of school, Kittle remains focused on strengthening his courtroom skills. “I’m really interested in civil litigation,” he said. “I like the interaction and the competitive nature of the courtroom. It’s exhilarating to study case law and find the best support for your argument.”
Regardless of what the immediate future holds, he knows going to law school was the right career move. “I believe everyone has some special purpose in this world,” he said. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve believed mine is to make a difference in other people’s lives.
“I like the idea of paying it forward,” he added. “The practice of law is a way for me to give back to the world all that I’ve been given. In the end, you never know how much of a difference one person can really make, but I need to try to find out.”
So how did he repay Wixson, who convinced him to give up sports journalism and become a lawyer? He proposed — and the two were married in May 2007.