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Turning a Passion Into a Second Career

After nearly 30 years in the insurance industry, former executive Michele Scavongelli of Carlisle, Massachusetts, enrolled in law school with plans to become a child advocate.

Why did you leave the insurance industry? I worked for John Hancock and took a buyout in 2004. I then became a consultant at Sun Life. But in 2008, when the company was having issues during the financial mess, I decided to get out. I finally sat back and decided what I really wanted to do.

What guided your thinking? I started doing a lot of nonprofit work in the late '90s, including visiting elementary schools in the poorer parts of Boston. And in looking back at my career, I felt that one of my strengths was in being an advocate.

Did your family influence your interest in helping children? I have seven kids, most of whom are grown, who have all had a lot of privileges and the benefits of a great childhood. Through my volunteer work at places like Bottom Line, which helps kids through college, I saw many kids who were not as fortunate. I think seeing that contrast sparked my interest in becoming a child advocate.

So you applied to law school? I realized that as a lawyer I could help people directly and help change policy at the same time.

Any reservations? I was concerned about starting a new career in my fifties. But my husband is an attorney and was supportive.

Is school a challenge? For the last part of my former career, I was working 60 or 70 hours a week and traveling a third of the time. School looked like it might be a little easier. The biggest adjustment was doing in-class work on a laptop. It certainly wasn't that way the last time I was in school.

What will you do when you finish? I don't know yet the exact form my advocacy will take. Northeastern Law School gives you an opportunity to participate in its co-op program to figure out what you want to do. That's extremely important because I want to hit the ground running.

How long do you see your second career lasting? I hope 20 or 30 years. I can't imagine just lying on the beach or gardening. One of the things that drove me to make this dramatic change was a desire to give back 24/7.

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