Morgan Spohn has spent his life defying expectations.
Once, the 3L student was thought to be deaf because he didn't speak much as a child in class. Then he was considered to have Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder before finally being diagnosed with what was then called Asperger's Syndrome. Today it is recognized as an autism spectrum disorder characterized by a hyper-focus on interests, difficulty socializing and rigid, repetitive thinking patterns.
“My mom remembers being told she'd be lucky if I even graduated high school, much less hold down a full-time job,” he said. “She didn't tell me that until after I graduated high school. As I have gotten older, it has given me motivation. Even though people put limits on you, you can define yourself. They don't know who I am and how I can accomplish things.”
Accomplished indeed. Some of Spohn's proudest moments during his time at University of Wisconsin Law School have happened in 2022 alone. In April, the Ho-Chunk tribal member was named the National Native American Law Students Association's 2L of the Year.
And this month, the 28-year-old held a prominent role in the Indigenous Law Students Association (ILSA) and UW Law's Native Nations Flag Ceremony. Thirteen Native Nations with ancestral ties to Wisconsin came together not only to present their flags but also honor tribal veterans and leaders, complete with a drum group.
“It was a really big moment, having been delayed by COVID a number of times, but what I really look forward to is what the flag display in the atrium will look like,” Spohn said.
The University of Wisconsin–Madison occupies ancestral Ho-Chunk land, a place their nation has called Teejop (day-JOPE) since time immemorial. The Law School is committed to having a visible, respectful place on campus for tribal recognition.
Born in Rochester, Minn., Spohn attended pow-wows as a child with his mom, who mostly raised him; his parents had never married and separated when he was young, though he did visit his dad in Wisconsin.
“My mom wanted me to form my own opinions and focus on not forgetting where I came from,” he said.
Spohn went to high school in Alaska because his stepdad got a job in Anchorage, but he moved back to Minnesota upon graduation, working for a while in restaurants and attending Rochester Community and Technical College.
He came to UW—Madison in 2017, initially wanting to pursue journalism “because I always loved sports.” He graduated two years later with a triple major: journalism, history and political science.
Since starting UW Law in the fall of 2021, Spohn has served as ILSA's 1L rep, co-president and now president. He has also gotten critical work experience over the past two summers in the Anchorage District Attorney's Office. He handled a lot of bail hearings and changes of plea but overall saw how “you have the ability to change someone's life.”
Upon graduation this spring, Spohn hopes to land a clerkship in the Twin Cities to get more writing experience, with the ultimate goal of becoming a prosecutor.
“It gives me a voice that can enact change, but also I can understand people in the system, because I have family members in there and that allows me to understand how to fix issues,” he said.
This falls in line with his guiding principle, which he recalls hearing at Native funerals as a child: “We are born to live, and we live to die, but we are remembered for what we do along the way.”
“It's leaving any system better off for the next generation,” he said. “When you're given a chance to impact any system, you should try to make it better off than how you found it.”
Morgan Spohn credited a few people for having a positive influence in his life, especially his mom, dad, stepdad and maternal grandparents; his kindergarten teacher, Ms. Timm, who worked with his mother and him to get diagnosed; his high school math teacher, Miss Temple, who wouldn’t let him fail to graduate; and former Vice President Walter Mondale, who encouraged him to go into politics or law during a chance encounter in Rochester.
Article by Jennie Broecker, University of Wisconsin Law School External Affairs
Submitted by Law School News on November 30, 2022