50 for 50 Spotlight: AnnMarie Highsmith (’92)
"When people come into my office, they see degrees from Seaver College and the School of Law. I hope it signals to them that I live with a powerful sense of purpose, that I operate with a passion to serve that is defined by integrity and determination..."
The US Customs and Border Protection Agency is the largest law enforcement organization in the country, and as the Deputy Chief Counsel, AnnMarie Highsmith (JD '92) is part of the team responsible for ensuring that the agency performs its critical mission of protecting the nation while ensuring the strength of the US economy. AnnMarie leads a legal team of 400 individuals serving 60,000+ professionals on a 24/7 global mission, and as managing partner for the Office of Chief Counsel, she oversees the legal operations in more than 30 offices nationwide and managing a multimillion dollar budget.
When she set out to earn a law degree, AnnMarie had no intention to work in government service, but she began to get a glimpse of the magnitude of the impact she could have in public service. AnnMarie recalls that after her first job as a law clerk at the US Customs Service, "it was a done deal," and she never looked back. She has now risen to the highest ranks of civil service and believes that her Pepperdine education played a pivotal role in building a foundation for this career: "When people come into my office, they see degrees from Seaver College and the School of Law on my wall. I hope it signals to them that I live with a powerful sense of purpose, that I operate with a passion to serve that is defined by integrity and determination, and that I will, relentlessly, pursue what is right and good to help others."
For nearly three decades, as the mission of US Customs has evolved in the face of ever-emerging threats, AnnMarie has felt privileged to work in the service of her country and fellow citizens. She says, "I know that working with my colleagues and collaborators across the Department of Homeland Security and the law enforcement community, we make the nation safer for our people, our communities, and our families."
The recent $50 million gift by alumnus Rick J. Caruso will help students pursuing careers in public service roles like AnnMarie who expresses that she is hopeful that service-oriented students are able to go deeper into their studies of the relevant laws, structures, and organizations in order to develop new ideas and improve how government serves the public. "There are so many areas that would benefit from thoughtful, creative, service-oriented people," she says, "and I am hopeful that part of the Caruso's generous gift will be used to help deserving students keep their student debts at a manageable level."
AnnMarie remains an active part of the Pepperdine community, mentoring students enrolled in the Washington, DC program who are interested in careers in law enforcement and public service. She has served as a guest lecturer for Program Director Nancy Hunt where she spoke about her role as agency counsel and as an executive within a federal law enforcement organization.
In 2017, AnnMarie was honored with a prestigious Presidential Rank Award which recognizes the accomplishments of federal senior executives, an honor bestowed to only one percent of senior staffers.
Pepperdine Caruso Law is proud to recognize AnnMarie Highsmith, a distinguished alumna who has helped build the reputation of the law school so that we may continue to rise for the next fifty years and beyond.