Griffin Riel may not be set on a major at Rutgers University, but she is set on one thing: Pursuing her passions for law and the humanities.
Riel has always gravitated towards the humanities. In her time at Verona High School, she has taken AP English Language and Composition, AP English Literature and Composition, AP U.S. Government, AP Human Geography, AP U.S. History, and AP Psychology. She was also a member of the Avant-Garde Literary Magazine staff.
“I like how people do things, why people do things,” she says, “and how we should do things.”
Those interests have informed her goals for college, where she intends to pursue as many majors as she can within the humanities. That’s a lot of possibilities, from English to Philosophy to Political Science; her wide variety of interests made Rutgers – New Brunswick one of her top choices.
“I’m indecisive,” Riel says. “That’s why I went to a big school.” She also cites the strength of many of Rutgers’s programs in the humanities, particularly the English, Philosophy, and Gender Studies departments, any of which would help to prepare her for law school.
The political and legal sphere have been on Riel’s mind since she was young. She’s always loved television and movies involving politicians or lawyers doing good, such as “12 Angry Men” and “West Wing.” She has been part of the VHS Mock Trial team for two years, having acted as a defense attorney in the 2022-23 season. And in California, as a third grader, she got to see the legal system working in real time. She helped a group advocating for tighter restrictions on smoking in apartment buildings by speaking in front of her city council.
“We changed a law and it helped people practically,” she says. Her parents had made jokes then about her future career as a lawyer. Riel did not always share their hopes; not out of disinterest, but out of fear.
She had feared that she wasn’t smart enough to become a lawyer, in part due to how distant lawyers seemed from other people—a view that changed when she moved to New Jersey and got to see one of the lawyers in her family up close.
There are a number of lawyers in Riel’s family. “One of the reasons I love law is that I’ve seen them do it well and passionately for the majority of my childhood,” she says. She recalls when lawyers in her family used their degrees to help the people around them with law-related matters. They encouraged her to pursue law through words of reassurance—and through their example.
“I got to watch my cousin, Fiona, go through law school,” she says. “I’ve seen a human, who I know is human, do this thing that I thought only far away people could.” Watching her cousin’s life as a law student proved to her that she could become a lawyer as well. This, along with her Mock Trial experiences and learning about the law in Dr. Christopher Tamburro’s U.S. History I class, helped to cement law as her future.
Becoming a lawyer is not her only possibility. She has also entertained the idea of becoming a politician, a writer, or working for a non-profit—yet she is fairly sure she wants to do something law-related. “I’m not entirely closed to ideas,” she says. “It’s just that at the moment, I’m pretty sure basically everything I could want to do would be helped by a law degree.”
Above all, Riel has one purpose in mind with her future: to help others. Though much of this is to be figured out during law school, she would want to go into the areas of law that would help others the most, such as becoming a public defender or carrying out class action lawsuits. She has chosen law because it follows naturally from her skills of public speaking and writing, and her interests in government and the legal system; to her, it is the best way for her to help others.
“This is how I’m good at existing,” she says, “so this is the way I think I will help people.”
“What’s Next” is a series of profiles about what members of each Verona High School class will do after graduation. MyVeronaNJ has been publishing the series since 2010 and you can read all of them here.