Susan Peeler Haire - Class of 1988
Attorney -- Starnes, Aycock, Haire, Hogan, Saunders, Rigsbee and McMillen Law Firm
Morganton, North Carolina
Legendary coach Vince Lombardi is credited as saying, ”The quality of a man's life is in direct proportion to his commitment to excellence, regardless of his chosen field of endeavor.” During my career, I have often thought about the strengths realized and the life-long friendships which were formed during my high school years at East Burke High School. As a proud graduate of the 1988 Cavalier class, I had no idea of how deeply the things I learned about myself while at EBHS would serve to transform my career path and give me the self-confidence and strength necessary both to pursue and sustain my career goals.
As a fifteen-year-old freshman, I was absolutely appalled at the notion of a public speaking class. After confirming that my advisor would not somehow allow me to opt out of public speaking, I began a journey that changed my life. Although every fiber of my being screamed "You can't do it!" my teacher, Lisa Beason, and my debate partner told me just the opposite. I learned to have those conversations of affirmation with myself. I'm sure many others have had them too. They go something like, "Self, you can do this, but it will involve intense preparation and confidence."
The confidence part of that equation is a daily work in progress for most people, but my journey was made so much easier by the belief which Mrs. Beason had in us. Not only did I finish public speaking and successful debate competitions, I went on to be the vice-president of the Forensics Club during my junior year and the president during my senior year. Mrs. Beason allowed us to practice at her home on Lake Hickory, and that was awesome as well. It felt so good to be involved in something in which I could excel.
Also, during my time at EBHS, I was involved in the chorus and concert choir. Mr. Jim Williams taught me a love of music and a deeper appreciation for the level of preparedness which is essential for an outstanding performance in life, whether it be school, work, or a personal endeavor. I had serious self-confidence issues and did not believe I was talented enough to accompany the concert choir on the piano, but Mr. Williams felt otherwise, and I learned that you can do most anything to which you set your mind if you are willing to accompany this mind set with hard work and sacrifice.
After I graduated high school, I was still somehow convinced that I had to be in the health services field to benefit those around me. During my first year at UNC Chapel Hill, I began to realize that my talents and gifts did not lie in dissecting animals or science related fields but rather in the humanities arena. Through the counsel of a wonderful advisor and an awesome sociology professor, I saw that my skill set lined up with either a career in law or possibly as a psychologist. Because I am very keen on having a Plan B, I decided to strive for a BS in psychology and apply to both law school and to a master’s program in psychology.
Thankfully, I was accepted into both law school and the psychology program, but after much soul searching and prayer, I decided to attend law school at North Carolina Central University in Durham. I was offered an academic scholarship which helped out greatly. When I was in law school, there were those from my hometown who said things like, "Lawyers are a dime a dozen" and "It will be HARD for you to make it as an attorney.” Others told me that there was no place for a woman in the legal profession. As one can imagine, these comments would momentarily crush my spirit, which was already screaming for encouragement, but I did not let their comments stop my vision. Instead, I participated in our school's trial advocacy team, and we were invited to participate in a competition at The Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, AK. Our team went on to take a second-place finish in the entire competition, and, to use the words of my son, we were “on fire”! As we flew back from Little Rock, I imagine that we could have flown of our own strength because of our excitement.
After law school, I began working with the Honorable Daniel Kuehnert for whom I had clerked while in law school. Judge Kuehnert has since been elected to the bench, and in 1997 I began work at the Patton, Starnes law firm in Morganton where I have remained since that time. We are now known as Starnes, Aycock, Haire, Hogan, Saunders, Rigsbee and McMillen. My law partners are fine people as well as being fine friends.
I did not know what my practice areas would be when I began law school. As the years went by, I realized the love I have for mediation, senior law (which involves estate planning and probate), civil litigation, and residential/commercial real estate. I am always drawn back to the memories of those who encouraged me while I was a student at EBHS and since that time as well. The impact of my teachers, my wonderful family, and supportive classmates did not end with graduation, but rather their influence assisted me both in believing in myself and achieving the goals which were set before me. A healthy belief in one's ability is necessary for life and should not be deemed the equivalent of having a huge ego, which only gets in the way. Believing in one's God-given abilities is tantamount to simply acknowledging what our Creator has done and is trying to accomplish through one's life.
If a young girl with self-confidence issues who was the first college graduate in her family can find her way into a career that she loves, every student can do the same. It is with great humility that I say"Thank you!" to all the teachers and staff of EBHS who so lovingly helped me find my way in life.
In sum, I believe that good teachers are some of the most unsung heroes in the world. I will leave with a favorite quote from Jeannette Walls which so aptly speaks to my situation as well as that of many other students. Ms. Walls has said "Teaching is a calling too. And I've always thought that teachers in their way are holy - angels leading their flocks out of the darkness."
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about my beloved EBHS and the teachers who formed the person I have become. I wish everyone the very best life has to offer!
Published September 2019