My father was a World War II veteran and career Navy. I, as a military dependent, moved a lot and travelled extensively throughout the United States with my family. In my travels, I attended two different elementary schools, one in New Orleans and one in North Quincy, Massachusetts. I attended four different high schools in four different states, ultimately graduating from high school in Jacksonville, Florida. Until junior high school, the parents of most of the kids I knew were also in the military, so we were all moving every two to three years, losing contact with old friends, and making new ones. I am actually grateful for the constant moving because it exposed me to really good schools and teachers, a diverse group of people, many cultures, and places. In all of my travels, I was always comforted by my mother, a stay at home mom whose life revolved around her children.
Over the course of my educational travels, and my constant moving, I developed a love of reading, math and traveling. I did really well in mathematics, even in college, but reading was my first love. I loved it then, and to this day, I still love reading. So, in college I sought a major which required lots of reading, and I majored in history. My degree in history was also just a means to a degree, for I was a huge fan of Perry Mason and always knew I wanted to be a lawyer.
I admired my father tremendously and wanted to be just like him. Chasing after a military career to follow in the footsteps of my father, in 1977, I joined the Air Force ROTC Program at Grambling State University. There weren’t many women joining the military in the 1970s, but my parents told me I could be anything I wanted to be and fully supported my decision. Upon graduating, I was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force. I am really proud that my father and mother, both of whom were older parents, pinned my 2nd Lieutenant bars on my shoulders.
The Air Force was gracious enough to grant me an educational delay so that I could attend law school at the University of Georgia. Upon graduating, I served four years on active duty as an Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG). I left active duty and joined the Air Force Reserves, spending 26 years as a member of the Air Force JAG Corps Reserves (AFJAGCR). I retired from the Air Force after 30 years of military service, as the first African-American woman to earn the rank of Colonel in the AFJAGCR. During my military career, I lived and was assigned to really great locations; notably, I spent two years in Germany in a job that enabled me to travel throughout Europe.
I believe in lifelong learning. After earning my law degree, I earned a Master of Science degree in international relations and a Master of Arts degree in computer resources and information management.
In 1968 and 1969, I recall the excitement about NASA and the space program. I recall cutting out a newspaper article about travel to and landing on the moon and bringing it to school to share during current events time! It never crossed my mind, however, that I would ever be associated with NASA.
After a storybook career working for the Department of Defense (DoD), having worked for DoD agencies like the Army, Air Force, and Corps of Engineers, I came to NASA Johnson Space Center in 2008. When the opportunity arose, I was reminded of my childhood dreams of NASA and space. I was in a position to be a part of an organization which has a great reputation for doing the impossible! What most impresses me about NASA is the intellectual firepower here, and the serious, no “kidding” fostering and promotion of creativity and innovation. The agency encourages “out of the box” thinking and doing things differently to get better and different results. It rewards creativity and innovation! At Johnson, I was a senior procurement attorney in the Office of the Chief Counsel. I advised leadership and procurement personnel on many multi-billion dollar contracts. In 2011, I served a three month detail at the NASA Shared Service Center at Stennis Space Center, serving as counsel to the executive director. In 2012, I was able to advance to the position of chief counsel at Stennis. In this capacity, I work alongside some of the best legal professionals in the agency. I provide advice to the director of Stennis, senior management, and all Stennis elements in all areas of law and legal policy affecting Stennis operations and interests. Our legal portfolio includes real property law, ethics, procurement law, employment law, fiscal law, space law, general law and intellectual property. I am extremely proud to be a part of NASA and Stennis.
I am most proud of my two children who are my greatest accomplishments. I am grateful to have served my country in uniform and to be working in a job that I look forward to coming to everyday. My parents were my biggest influence in life. At an early age, they told me about a loving and gracious God who answers prayers. Certainly, my prayers for a life of joy and fulfillment have been heard.
I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I pray it includes excellent health, happiness, advanced learning, and God’s continued blessings. The advice I would pass on to the next generation, is to “shoot for the stars” and beyond and know that if you can dream it, you can do it. Always do the right thing and don’t be afraid to have courageous conversations and make courageous decisions. Finally, remember this idea expressed by Maya Angelou: “people will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel”. Treat people with dignity, respect, and compassion.
For Monica Ceruti, the trick has been to learn how to balance work and family without compromising either. Today, in addition to having a rewarding home life, her two sons are on the road to having rewarding careers: her oldest son is a college graduate and her youngest son is a cadet at the United States Coast Guard Academy. After a storybook career working for the Department of Defense (DoD), she came to NASA Johnson Space Center in 2008. At Johnson, she was a senior procurement attorney in the Office of the Chief Counsel. She advised leadership and procurement personnel on many multi-billion dollar contracts. In 2011, she served a three month detail at the NASA Shared Service Center at Stennis, serving as counsel to the executive director. In 2012, she was selected to her current position of chief counsel at Stennis. In this capacity, she provides advice to the director of Stennis, senior management and all Stennis elements in all areas of law and legal policy affecting Stennis operations and interests. Her legal portfolio includes real property law, ethics, procurement law, employment law, fiscal law, space law, general law and intellectual property. Monica holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from Grambling State University, a Juris Doctor in law from the University of Georgia, a Master of Science degree in international relations from Troy University, and a Master of Arts in computer resources and information management from Webster University. Throughout her career, she has been the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions, and she is a graduate of several civic and federal leadership programs.