SAFETY HARBOR — Everyone has heard the phase, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
But for longtime Safety Harbor resident Valerie Smith, those nine words have been a way of life.
Smith, a 5-foot-something blonde and proud mother of three who is one of Safety Harbor’s most recognized residents, has been attempting to pass the Florida bar exam for the past five years, an emotional saga she’s chronicled extensively on social media as she took the test, and failed it, nine times in that span.
But on Apr. 11, against all odds and despite some friends, and several strangers, urging her give up her quest, Smith posted the message to Facebook that her legion of supporters have been waiting for.
“I (WE) PASSED THE FLORIDA BAR EXAM!! FINALLY!!,” she wrote in the post. “VALERIE KATHRYN SMITH, ESQUIRE!!!! PRAISE JESUS!”
The post was accompanied by several emoji, including praying hands, smiling faces, hearts and, of course, the scales of justice, and supportive comments quickly came pouring in — more than 300 within a few hours of the posting — with many praising ‘Val’s’ determination and perseverance.
“The most resilient human being I know,” one remark read.
Others mentioned how they have been following Smith’s journey to becoming “legally blonde,” a phrase she often used in reference to the Reese Witherspoon-as-a-lawyer flick, with one stating, “What great news. We are so proud of you. Following your journey has been so inspiring. Congratulations!”
Smith, who lives in the downtown district and has been an avid supporter of local businesses and organizations for more than a decade, said she planned to celebrate the culmination of a half-decade of blood, sweat and tears shed while cramming for the exam by fulfilling a promise to a late friend.
“I promised Lou FIVE years and TEN BAR EXAMS ago that I would do the Lambeau Leap at HIS bar once I finally passed,” she wrote on Facebook an hour after her original post, a reference to Whistle Stop owner Louis “Lou” Kinney, another fixture of the community who died unexpectedly in December.
“We leap at 7.”
Smith invited everyone to meet at the iconic bar and restaurant at 915 Main St., and she also posted a screenshot of a 3-year-old text thread with Kinney that showed him saying, “Start with a barstool. If you make it up there, we’ll move to a hightop table.”
“A promise is a promise,” Smith wrote, adding, “Love you, Lou. Thanks for always rooting for this Underdog. I finally did it. #10.”
The day after she kept her promise to Kinney, Smith reflected on her accomplishment.
“Some may call me an idiot for sitting for the Florida Bar Exam 10 grueling times. Others call me an underdog,” Smith said via email. “I like Underdog better. Because where’s the story had I passed it the first time? There is none. Yet with 10 attempts, now there is a story.”
Smith went on to state after she passed law school five years ago, she thought she would become a lawyer right away. “Meanwhile, 10 Bar Exams — 9 of which were failures — and 5 years later, I FINALLY passed the bar. It took a lot of hard work … and a plethora of time and sacrifice from my kids and friends. All while accepting failure over and over again.”
Now that she has conquered her goal, Smith said she hopes her tale inspires others.
“If my story helps even ONE person press through the pain to complete their destiny that they truly desire, then that’s MY true destiny. Even more so than passing the Florida Bar exam,” she wrote. “Because Destiny belongs to the Underdogs!”