Moore's Open Door
By Emily Tillet
Laughter echoes through the hallway of McIntire School of Commerce, seconds from the Lawn of the University of Virginia. Everyone in the building looks solemn and performing, as if life is one large job interview, and they are all walking with somewhere to be. However, as they pass the lively conversation of Room 316, a smile flashes across the face of even the most stressed of graduate students. Two teacher assistants can be seen through the door that is flung open as if its very existence is arbitrary. This is the office of Professor Sherri Moore, who spreads kindness as easily as if she were breathing.
As a student knocks on the door, Sherri first comes into view, exclaiming “Hey, Sweetheart! How are you? How was your interview?” These are Moore’s office hours. She teaches Commercial Law at McIntire, where she draws on her background in law.
Although teaching seems to come naturally to Moore, it was not where she started. After receiving her law degree at the University of Richmond, Sherri Moore was a trial lawyer for twenty years. She was following in the footsteps of her father who was also a trial lawyer in her family’s small southern town. Moore recalls, “I used to love to watch him in court when I was growing up. I always dreamed of doing the same thing. It just felt right. When I was six, we were sitting at the dining room table and I told everybody that I wanted to be a lawyer. This is in the sixties, so my brothers laughed thinking, no, you’re a girl! You can’t be a lawyer! So, I showed them.”
Moore’s childhood home is where her mission to spread love and kindness began. Growing up in a household with four brothers, Moore was always trying to please her parents. Moore’s parents were “kind to everybody,” especially her mother. Moore remembers, “we couldn’t get out of the grocery store until we talked to everybody, including the butcher, the cashier, everybody. I learned from her.” Furthermore, the image of Moore’s dream job included charity and grace. Her father would help anyone that came to him, regardless of their ability to pay. Moore said, “they’d come in, he’d tell them ‘here’s my fee’, they can’t afford it, he goes ‘alright, whatever, just sit down’. He’d represent them anyway.” This led to Moore’s passion for social justice and pro bono work. In her own words, she “always [tries] to be fair to the client. Even though they pay you $100 a case, I’d spend hundreds of hours on these cases because I felt like they deserved it.”
Although this work was intellectually challenging for Moore, she lost the love for practicing law after the death of her mother and first husband, both of whom were incredibly influential figures for her, over the span of just a few months. In this period of her life, Moore fell into a deep depression. This was the only time in her life, Moore recognizes, when it was nearly impossible for her to be kind.
Today, Moore still lives for her first husband, bringing his lessons with her in her day-to-day life. Remembering his life brought tears to Sherri’s eyes, yet the smile remained on her face. “He was so kind, he was so genteel, he was so genuine. I never heard him say a mean thing about anybody. He just really loved life and people, and having that unconditional love changed my life.” Moore went on to say that, “He inspires me daily to be the best version of myself. To live for him. I promised myself that he wouldn’t die. That the lessons that he taught me wouldn’t fade: to be kind, to be forgiving, to not be critical. Little lessons like that. And only finding the good, and filling yourself with that. Living for someone else, it makes it bigger than you.”
Moore credits her becoming a teacher to a friend, who asked her, “what would you do if you had your best dreams?” Without hesitation Moore immediately told her friend that she had always wanted to teach. Moore recalls that she has a “sketch I did when I was a little girl, it said ‘if I can’t make it into law school I want to teach.’” Immediately, Moore began to put passion back into her work. “I literally was so depressed for a couple years that when I put my life back together and started hearing myself laugh again and started feeling like it was okay to smile, I just thought ‘I don’t want to waste another minute’. And now I’m driven by that. Good energy feeds off good energy. And I feel like the difference [between being a lawyer and being a teacher] is when I was practicing law, I was drained, because it’s negative energy. Litigation is fighting. Here it’s like plugging into a socket. If you give love you get it. It’s just that simple.” Moore states that her favorite thing about teaching at the University of Virginia is the students, saying “[They’re not only] smart, but active, loving, caring. It’s the give-back. I get as much from my students as I give. It’s amazing.”
In such an intense environment as UVA’s Commerce School, Moore’s patience and commitment for her students is outstanding. Students leave her classroom smiling. Sherri Moore has also been a staple in the UVA community’s fight against sexual assault, helping to reform policy and serving as a resource for her students. Victims can come to Moore with their stories, confident that not only will she believe them but she will also have the knowledge and expertise to advise them in their journey for justice.
Moore’s door is always open. Her life is her office hours, supporting those in need and spreading kindness.