William & Mary Law School welcomed new students on August 20. The 196 members of the Class of 2015 who arrived that day were chosen from a pool of 5,573 applicants. The oldest law school’s newest students hail from 33 states and Washington, DC, as well as Canada, China, the Czech Republic, and Liberia. The class that enrolled on August 20 has a median LSAT of 164 and a median undergraduate G.P.A. of 3.74 (the highest in the Law School’s history).
In addition to the Class of 2015 J.D. candidates, 27 students joined the Law School community for one year of study in the American Legal System Program as LL.M. degree candidates. These students are citizens of China, India, Jamaica, Nigeria and the United Kingdom, as well as the United States. The Law School also welcomed four exchange students for the fall semester from China, Colombia, and Luxembourg. Eleven transfer students and six visiting students are also continuing their legal studies at William & Mary.
The Law School received 5,784 applications for all of its applicant groups (J.D. 1L, transfer, visiting, exchange, and LL.M.) from 50 states, Washington, DC, and 61 other countries.
“Our new students possess outstanding academic, service, and professional backgrounds,” said Associate Dean for Admission Faye F. Shealy. “They are an impressive group of aspiring citizen lawyers, and we are truly honored that such well-qualified individuals seek a legal education at William & Mary. We welcome each one to the Law School family and to the world of the law.”
The first-year class received undergraduate degrees from 116 different colleges and universities, 10 in Virginia and 106 in other locations. The College of William & Mary and the University of Virginia, once again, were the leading undergraduate institutions, followed by Florida State, University of Florida, University of Maryland at College Park, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Richmond, University of Texas at Austin, and Virginia Tech.
August Johannsen, of Mission Viejo, Calif., is a graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles where he earned a degree in psychology with a minor in political science. He spent one summer studying abroad at Cambridge University and his extracurricular activities included playing clarinet for four years in the UCLA marching band.
“After attending UCLA, a huge school ... , I wanted a much more intimate and supportive graduate school experience,” Johannsen said. “Dean Douglas held a reception in Los Angeles that I attended. That, combined with my visit to William & Mary over spring break, totally convinced me to attend the law school. Meeting with the dean and Elizabeth Cavallari in the admissions office, as well as the extensive email correspondence I had with her, truly showed me the level of interest the William & Mary faculty and staff take in the students here. Plus, Williamsburg is beautiful!”
“Constitutional law is my focus now,” he added, “but I am keeping my mind open to other areas of law, and my Institute of Bill of Rights Law Fellowship will steer me towards a career in that field. My interest was sparked in my junior year when I took a class on the constitutional foundations of federalism and separation of powers. My professor’s passion for constitutional law rubbed off on me and that passion ultimately led me here.”
Political science, English, history, economics, psychology, and philosophy were majors shared by many new students. In the 1L class, 43 members graduated summa cum laude, 37 graduated magna cum laude, and 26 graduated cum laude. Nineteen 1Ls are Phi Beta Kappa graduates and 13 hold master’s degrees in fields such as business administration, classical archaeology, clinical psychology, English, public administration, and public policy.
Colleen Smith of Boise, Idaho, is a graduate of The College of Idaho where she earned a degree in mathematics with a minor in journalism. An avid triathlete, she was a member of the women’s soccer, cross -country, and track teams during college. She was on the All-American Academic Team for four semesters and was a Rhodes Scholar finalist in 2010. Smith also was honored as the Cascade Collegiate Conference Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2010 and 2011 and as the A.O. Duer Award recipient as the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics' Scholar Athlete of the Year in 2010.
Smith put her journalistic talents to work in spring 2011 as the Capitol correspondent of the Sandpoint Reader, which published her weekly column on major events in the Idaho Legislature. She was both editor-in-chief, 2009-10, and a columnist, 2010-11, for The COYOTE, the College of Idaho’s independent student newspaper.
“My interest in law came from a variety of sources,” she said, “serving as a justice on my college's Honor Council and as student body president. Covering state government solidified my interest, so during my year off I worked for Legislative Services at the Idaho Legislature.”
Smith’s academic and athletic abilities won her the Law School’s Mary Siegrist Hinz Fellowship, which she said was a big factor in her decision to pursue her law degree at William & Mary. “Through the Fellowship, I met students I could relate to, ones who had unbelievable work ethics and who were passionate not just about the law but about leadership, athletics, and their community,” she said. “Through my interactions with them, the Fellowship's selection committee, and the admissions staff, I knew William & Mary Law School has both the network to help me achieve my goals and a culture in which I would feel comfortable and happy.”
Many of Smith’s classmates also found time for a variety of extracurricular activities in which they demonstrated their leadership skills. Like Smith, two of her classsmates also served as editor-in-chiefs of campus publications. Two members of the class, including Smith, were student body presidents and three were vice presidents. Four held leadership positions in Greek life.
Army First Lieutenant Richard Crockett is originally from Colorado Springs, Colo. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and was on the dean’s list for all eight semesters. He served as the brigade activities officer during 2008-09, a role in which he was responsible for planning events for more than 4,000 of his fellow students. He was an active member of the Latter-day Saints Student Association and also was an avid participant in extracurricular sports.
Following his first two years at West Point, he left for Thailand to serve as a full-time volunteer missionary where he taught religion and English.
Crockett served in Iraq, both as battalion liaison officer and as an infantry platoon leader. His most recent assignment was as executive officer of C Company of 1-21 Infantry at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.
“I am attending William & Mary Law School to prepare for service as a JAG attorney in the Army,” Crockett said, “and to join a profession that has fascinated me for 12 years, beginning as a member of my high school interscholastic mock trial team. Since then, the examples of my mock trial coaches, my Military and Constitutional Law professor at the Academy, and the JAG attorneys supporting our stability mission in Iraq, have led me here. A legal education at William & Mary will give me the tools to serve my country as a JAG attorney while helping me achieve the goal I set to join the legal profession.”
Crockett is among eight students in his class who have served in the military. He and a classmate are enrolled under the auspices of the highly selective Funded Legal Education Program.
A number in this class of future citizen lawyers have demonstrated a commitment to public service. They have served as mentors and coaches, guardians ad litem, peer advisors, tutors, and volunteers in crisis assistance and prisoner assistance programs. They have done everything from volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, founding a TOMS Shoes group, running a fundraiser for a battered women’s shelter, and walking or running with Light the Night and Relay for Life. Six class members are Eagle Scouts and one is a merit badge counselor
Belema Idoniboye, of Charlottesville, Va., earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in political science and communication studies from the University of Iowa and a master of public policy degree from George Mason University. He also holds a certificate from Mansfield College, University of Oxford. He received a number of commendations, grants and scholarships as an undergraduate. Idoniboye served as an associate justice on the University of Iowa Student Government Judicial Court, and was inducted into the Pi Sigma Alpha Political Science Honor Society and the Lambda Pi Eta National Communication Association Honor Society. As an honors program research assistant, he helped develop and structure new political science courses. From fall 2007 to winter 2008, Idoniboye served as a student campaign aide for then-Senator Joseph R. Biden’s presidential campaign.
Prior to beginning his legal studies at William & Mary, Idoniboye worked as a special assistant in the Office of the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, DC. There, among other duties, he performed extensive research on the legislative priorities of veterans’ service organizations and issues related to the congressional testimonies of senior-level leadership.
“Societal injustices and inequalities have piqued my interest in labor and employment law, and disability law and advocacy,” he said. “The Law School's abiding creed that lawyers should not only be faithful servants of the law, but also continuously seek ways to perfect our nation through other forms of civic engagement, led me to William & Mary.”
Queen Kanu Uffiah and Yujian (Vincent) Zhang traveled many miles to continue their legal studies in the Law School's LL.M. Program.
Uffiah is a graduate of the University of Calabar Secondary School and the University of Calabar, where she also obtained her law degree. She became a member of the Nigerian Bar Association after successful completion of the Law School Program at the Nigerian Law School in Abuja. In Nigeria, she explained, aspiring lawyers must “train in the law faculty of the university for five years before proceeding to the Nigerian Law School to qualify as an attorney.” In addition to her membership in the Nigerian Bar Association, she is a member of the Institute of Mediators and Conciliators.
She has served her nation in the National Youth Service Corps, where she was a legal assistant in the Ministry of Justice in Rivers State. The experience fueled her passion to become a children’s rights activist.
“I want to give every child in my country and in the world a voice, and make every child's right count,” Uffiah said. “I hope to run a non-profit organization for this purpose and to make the world a better and more peaceful place. I also love music, and write and produce my own songs, which is one of the avocations I hope to pursue.”
“William & Mary Law School stands out as one of the best law schools in the United States,” she said. “It has a reputation for producing the best lawyers, both here and in the world-at-large. I love to learn from the best, that is why I choose William & Mary.”
Zhang received a bachelor of law degree and a master of law degree in economic law from Southwest Jiaotong University in Chengdu, Sichuan, China. During his university years, he was awarded several scholarships and garnered honors competing in the school’s English Debate Competition. He also enjoyed playing on the university’s soccer and football leagues and participating in the Chengdu Soccer City League. The International Affairs Office recognized him with the Excellent Student Assistant Award and the International Martial Arts Festival awarded him the Excellent Youth Volunteer Award.
In May and September 2010, Zhang was a research fellow and contributed to two comparative studies on eastern and western legal education. He has gained experience in legal practice in his home country through his work as the officer of legal affairs for Longyuan Property, a large construction company. He also interned in summer 2008 as a criminal court clerk at the Xichang People’s Court in Xichang, Sichuan.
“I want to become a lawyer in torts or real estate,” Zhang said, “but I also wish to promote human rights and constitutional rights, especially children's rights in China.”
He said he chose to come to William & Mary because of the school’s history and its graduates’ involvement in public service.
Zhang overcame a severe illness while a university student and said he looked forward to beginning a new chapter of his life at William & Mary.
“Coming to Williamsburg, I could not resist the heroic feeling of standing on a new starting point, and preparing for the next long journey,” he said. “I know I can do better; I know I can go further.”
Editor's Note: The Office of Communications wishes to acknowledge the important contribution of Assistant Dean of Admission Elizabeth M. Cavallari to this article. She contributed the class data summaries and the descriptive information about class members' shared interests and backgrounds.