Mary-Christine “M.C.” Sungaila, ’88, received the 2017 Ellis Island Medal of Honor. The award recognizes the achievements of outstanding U.S. citizens, either naturalized or native-born, who embody American values of tolerance, compassion and service. An appellate lawyer and partner at the law firm Haynes and Boone, Sungaila was honored for her deep commitment to advocating for the rights of women and girls, immigrants and the underprivileged. For Sungaila, who is of Lithuanian and Spanish heritage, the award is more than an accolade. “I’m really proud of the recognition it gives to our parents and grandparents,” she says. “It’s really much bigger than the individual person.”
Her recent accomplishments include successfully appealing to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals the denial of a transgender woman’s asylum request; the decision in the case was one of the first by a federal appellate court to distinguish sexual orientation from gender identity in applications for asylum.
The National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations (NECO), a nonprofit devoted to celebrating America’s diversity, has sponsored the Ellis Island Medal of Honor since 1986. The award has honored influential individuals including Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and civil rights activist Rosa Parks, as well as Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, ’50, JD ’52.