Lilia Vazova ’02: Graduating from a High School like ACS Gives One a Lot of Options and Choices About Schools, Career Paths, and Places to Live

January 10, 2020 by American College of Sofia

Lilia Vazova of the Class of 2002 is a Partner at the White Collar Defense and Investigations Group in New York City. She has a degree in Psychology from Trinity College in Connecticut and a Juris Doctor Degree from the University of Michigan Law School. Over the past 10 years she has been living and working in New York. I remember seeing her on campus back in the day and I was thrilled when fellow alumni started sharing articles about her success. It was then that I decided to get in touch with her and ask for an interview. I was overjoyed that she agreed and found the time in her busy schedule to answer some questions. Here is what she told me:

Interview by Alexander Tomov ’04

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Do you remember how you came to attend ACS?

I recall it being a bit of a spontaneous decision. In the grueling ordeal that is high school entrance exams in Bulgaria, ACS wasn’t much of a focus and I ended up applying on a whim, without much forethought or preparation. Frankly, I lived my life in the preceding two years thinking I would go to a German Language High School. But when I ended up getting into ACS, it felt like an opportunity to do something different instead of a more familiar or typical high school. To their credit, my parents left it entirely up to me, so this was probably the first quasi-adult choice I made in my life without their input.

What is your fondest memory of the College?

I think the single best thing about ACS was that it was an intellectually rigorous, stimulating environment. Academically, it was first-rate, and the vast majority of my classmates were brilliant. It really pushes one to do their best – you have to just to keep up – which I think is so valuable when you are still young and impressionable, and it serves you well later in life.

What about the worst one?

Probably the flip side of what I just described: it was a fairly intense environment which, paired with typical adolescent dynamics, can be a lot for a teenager.

 

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What extracurriculars were you involved with during your time at ACS?

The school newspaper, College Life, and the Yearbook. I think the extracurricular opportunities are one of the best things about ACS – it’s such a wonderful opportunity to develop one’s talents and interests, whether that be in sports, the performing arts, or something else. You learn how to take ownership and pride in your work, and you learn how to work as a team.

When was the last time you returned to campus?

Gosh, not for years – last time was probably an on-campus alumni event over ten years ago. As any fellow alum or current student has probably experienced, ACS is sort of everywhere. Last year, I was traveling in Southeast Asia with a friend, and we got to talking with a couple of American-looking, English-speaking fellow travelers in our hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia. When they heard I was Bulgarian, they were delighted because they had both been teaching at a Bulgarian high school until moving to teach in China a year earlier. You can probably see where this is going – the school was ACS and we had a lovely time reminiscing about our experience there (they said Bulgarian kids were the smartest students they had ever taught, by the way). It was wonderful to find common ground and connect with complete strangers over something so close to home.

How did you get into law?

That was another spur-of-the-moment decision. By my junior year of college, I was weighing my options of what to do next, and decided to apply to law school to see how that would fare out. I got into the University of Michigan, visited the school, liked it, decided to go there, and loved it. And here I am, ten years later, a grown-up lawyer.

What is your proudest moment of your career so far?

That’s a hard question. I suppose the most obvious choice was being elected as a partner – that’s a bit of an elusive goal at large law firms, especially so quickly – so I am certainly proud of that, coming from a different country and background and all that. A few weeks ago, I was featured among leading female trial lawyers at my firm in American Lawyer, the industry’s most renowned publication, so that was pretty cool as law is a heavily male-dominated industry. I think the single proudest moment was when a young lawyer told me, “I want to be you.” Her telling me she had learned from me and looked up to me was the single best thing I have heard in my career.

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What is your most teachable career moment?

It’s hard to pick a moment per se. You are always up against a new experience, a new challenge so you are always growing into a new role and rising up to a new challenge. It can be exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. What I have learned along the way is that one probably knows more than they realize, and that most work challenges can be overcome with hard thinking and hard work. And in the meantime, “fake it till you make it” is always a useful motto to live by.

Do you keep in touch with fellow alumni?

I do. There is a sizable contingent here in New York. I try to see a couple of my closest friends from ACS even though we are scattered around the world.

What would you say is your most marked characteristic?

Probably my sense of responsibility and commitment to people and things I care about, like my family and my job.

Would you change something about yourself if you could?

I suppose I could chill out a bit, so if I could change one thing about myself, it would probably be that.

What do you most value in your friends?

That they are good, smart people I learn from and admire.

What is it that you most dislike about people?

Lack of integrity. Lack of empathy. Dealing with your insecurities by putting others down.

What would you like to say to the fellow alumni (hopefully) reading this?

Graduating from a high school like ACS gives one a lot of options and choices about schools, career paths, and places to live. I hope they are happy with the choices they made, and how they live their lives. And Merry Christmas!

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