William & Mary Law School welcomed its newest students on August 15. The 236 members of the J.D. Class of 2019 were selected from a pool of 4,243 applicants, hailing from 38 states, the District of Columbia, the US Virgin Islands and four different countries (China, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom). Additionally, six students hold dual citizenship with the United States and Canada, Ecuador, Ireland, Panama and the United Kingdom, and one is a dual citizen of Canada and France. The Class of 2019 has a median LSAT of 162, the 85th percentile, and a median undergraduate GPA of 3.75.
In addition to the first-year J.D. candidates, 52 students have joined William & Mary Law School for one year of study in the American Legal System Program as LL.M. degree candidates. These new members of the Law School community are citizens of Cameroon, China, India, Italy, Iran, Japan, Jordan, Russia and Saudi Arabia. The Law School also welcomed one transfer student and two exchange students continuing their legal studies.
“The size and strength of our applicant pool is a tribute to the Law School’s reputation,” said Faye Shealy, Associate Dean for Admission. “Our incoming students are an accomplished group of individuals and aspiring citizen lawyers, and we are truly impressed that these highly qualified individuals seek legal education at William & Mary. We have many reasons to believe they will contribute to the Law School community and legal profession in ways that continue the William & Mary traditions we value so highly.”
The first-year class received undergraduate degrees from 156 different undergraduate colleges and universities, 15 in Virginia and 141 in other locations. The leading undergraduate schools are the University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary. There are also three or more members of the Class of 2019 from (listed in alphabetical order) Cornell University, Elon University, Florida State University, George Washington University, North Carolina State University, Pennsylvania State University, Princeton University, Trinity University (Texas), the University of Florida, the University of Maryland–College Park, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Wake Forest University and Washington and Lee University.
Political science, history, international relations, English, economics, psychology and philosophy are the predominant majors studied by 62 percent of the 1L class. Fifty-four members of the class graduated summa cum laude, and 23 have been honored with membership in Phi Beta Kappa. Eighteen members of the class have master’s degrees (one has earned two, and another has earned a master’s and a doctorate) in fields such as art history, construction engineering, economics, education (secondary and special), history, philosophy, public administration, and religion.
Jacob Cain is a First Lieutenant in the United States Army and was last stationed in Anchorage, Alaska. Cain is originally from Oakman, Alabama, and earned a bachelor of science, magna cum laude, majoring in civil engineering from Alabama A&M University and a master of engineering in construction engineering from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. His work experience began at NASA in Huntsville, Alabama. “I was responsible with my team in testing all materials that would leave this planet. That includes astronaut underwear to the most advanced computers,” Cain says. “We tested to see how these items would react in different environments in space.” He left NASA to begin a military career where he was the head environmental engineer for the Army in Alaska. “Being responsible for all EPA and OSHA regulations for 8,000 soldiers and 14,000 airman located in Anchorage, I had incredible opportunities to travel the state of Alaska and to visit places only accessible by jumping out of planes.”
He states that he has been “privileged with the opportunity to see the military justice process first hand. Seeing how a Judge Advocate can assist soldiers, commanders and the whole Army motivated me to want to be that person, a Judge Advocate that would help our nation’s Army be even stronger.” He is looking forward to joining the JAG Corps upon graduation from William & Mary Law School in three years.
Cain is one of 12 that have served in the military, and three (including Cain) are attending law school under the auspices of the highly selective Funded Legal Education Program (FLEP).
Thirty-three members of the Class of 2019 have taken advantage of study abroad programs. The most popular locations were England, France, Spain, Italy and China, with the rest of the class studying abroad in 24 other countries. Six speak three languages, and one speaks four languages fluently. Two were Fulbright Scholars.
Dorronda Bordley came to William & Mary Law School from Felton, Delaware, and earned a bachelor of arts degree, magna cum laude, in sociology from Wake Forest University as a first-generation college student. Following her graduation, Bordley traveled to Taitung City, Taiwan, as a Fulbright Scholar under a one-year grant to teach English. “Through games, music and other activities, I tried to inspire my students to celebrate themselves while also embracing diversity as global citizens.”
Bordley then worked at Legal Services of the Hudson Valley through AmeriCorps VISTA. “With a focus on combating poverty, I spent the year creating legal presentations for veterans and service providers on basic civil legal issues such as housing, debt, veterans’ benefits and family law. Through these experiences, both as a Fulbright Scholar and an AmeriCorps member, I learned the importance of bridge building to better communities and have committed myself to serving my community, both globally and locally.”
While at Wake Forest University, Bordley co-directed a gospel choir, was a tutor, and was active in the random acts of kindness group. She is excited to join William & Mary Law’s Class of 2019 because she was “looking for a school that emphasized community lawyering and provided opportunities to advance in the field.”
Like Bordley, her 1L classmates are quite willing to share their talents with others. More than 65 percent of class members have strong experience volunteering and engaging in community service. Three have served as missionaries, and five have participated in alternative break service trips. They have done everything from acting as a captain for a Relay for Life team, volunteering as museum docents, serving as a guardian ad litem, working with Habitat for Humanity, advising a prison entrepreneurship program, serving food at local shelters and soup kitchens, teaching GED classes, working as an EMT or firefighter, raising money for charity through dance marathons, and volunteering at animal shelters. Five students in the class are Eagle Scouts. Several are active in environmental organizations.
Many in the J.D. class found time to get involved in extracurricular activities that demonstrated their leadership skills. Seven members of the class were part of student conduct boards with one as chair. Nineteen were active in student governments, and two served as student body presidents of their undergraduate institutions. Involvement in political organizations was also important for many class members, with 11 participating in College Republicans or College Democrats. Three served as president of their organizations. Thirty-three participated in mock trial, moot court, debate, or Model UN, and nine were captains.
The Class of 2019 took advantage of opportunities to explore their chosen profession as summer interns for law firms, political campaigns, Commonwealth and District Attorneys, the Democratic National Committee, LGBT and transgender law centers, strategy consultants, the Department of Justice, domestic violence organizations, lobbying groups, governors, the foreign service, members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, judges (local, state and federal), police departments, probation offices, public relations firms, the Republican National Committee, the White House and state legislatures, among others.
Matthew Sarfan of Hampton, Virginia, graduated from James Madison University in May. He earned a bachelor of arts, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, as a justice studies major with a concentration in crime and criminology. Sarfan spent the summer of 2014 interning at the Newport News Public Defender’s Office and “saw how vital defense is for those who cannot afford counsel.” During the academic year, he was research assistant for New Bridges, an immigrant resource center in Harrisonburg. On campus at JMU, Sarfan was a leader in his fraternity, serving as recruitment chair, judicial board head and recording secretary.
Growing up along the Chesapeake Bay, Sarfan has always known of William & Mary, and he “chose William & Mary because of its dedication to shaping citizen lawyers. I am confident after my three years I will be prepared to use my education to give back to my community.” Additionally, internships “led me in the direction of William & Mary to further my studies and prepare to help clients with the complex legal issues they face.”
Along with Sarfan, 51 have participated in Greek life. Two have served as presidents of their fraternities, two have served as presidents of their sororities, one founded a fraternity on campus, and one was president of the Panhellenic Association. Six students were active with Equality Alliances, and another led the Black Student Alliance. Many members of the class participated in student-led newspapers, political magazines and academic journals. Five members led as editors.
Twenty-three members of the Class of 2019 were involved in pre-law organizations, with four acting as president or vice president and another three as secretary. Many volunteered on political campaigns, and 37 incoming 1Ls completed research with faculty.
Three were Teach for America Corps members, one was a Peace Corps member, seven were AmeriCorps members, and eight others have teaching experience. Overall, 52 percent of students in the new class have full-time work experience, some as paralegals, legal assistants, policy researchers and legislative aides.
Whitney Nixdorf hails from Blue Springs, Missouri, and has been a high school English teacher and community college English instructor since her graduation from Missouri State University, summa cum laude, with a bachelor of science in education and English. Nixdorf also holds a master of arts degree in curriculum and instruction, with an English emphasis, from the University of Missouri–Kansas City. “I’ve been a teacher for the last eight years,” Nixdorf says, “and I decided to study law because I felt it was time for a new challenge. I always encouraged my students to explore all of their interests and push themselves to be greater. I began to realize that I needed to take my own advice.”
She was incredibly active in her school and local community. Nixdorf advised the National Honor Society and Habitat for Humanity, was the lead developer of a new curriculum, and mentored other teachers for secondary communication arts.
“Knowing that I wasn’t just going to any law school, but William & Mary specifically, made the decision to change my life a lot easier. The beauty and historical significance of the place gives a certain weight to the endeavor. My impression of William & Mary is that people here want students to be successful and to find fulfillment in their work. I have felt genuinely welcomed by the people of Williamsburg, and the faculty, staff and students at William & Mary are warm, bright, and intellectually curious. I am certain that this was the right choice for me, and I am thankful to be a student again.”
Like Whitney, many were involved as mentors and have served as coaches for youth sports teams, big siblings, youth group leaders, Girl Scout troop leaders, peer advisors, teaching assistants, camp counselors, relationship abuse organizations, Special Olympics volunteers, and writing and academic tutors.
The Class of 2019 has been active in intramural and adult recreation sports, with 29 having participated in varsity sports (six were captains). Of these, one played professional baseball, one played professional basketball in Europe, one was a semi-finalist for track in the Olympic trials and holds seven school records, and one was a four-time academic all-American. Others have been involved as members of a cappella groups, choirs, jazz bands, marching bands, theater productions, dance companies and improv comedy groups. Two were choir directors, and others have been music and dance instructors. One founded a student hip hop group, and two play three or more instruments. Several are active in mixed martial arts with two achieving their black belts.
Additionally, the Law School’s LL.M. Program draws students from all over the world to continue their legal studies in Williamsburg. Ruian (Grace) Guo and Satam Alshammeri are two of these students.
Satam Alshammeri received his LL.B. degree in law from Kuwait University. While Alshammeri was raised and educated in Kuwait, he is from Saudi Arabia. He is interested in business and international law and would one day like to own and run his own business. Law is his passion, and Alshammeri “felt that my social skills, passion towards justice and my perception of local laws would help me to excel in my study of law in order to become an acclaimed lawyer, working to ensure that justice is served in my local community.”
Grace Guo joins the LL.M. class from Shanghai, China. She received a LL.B. in international economic law from Shanghai University of Political Science & Law and was an exchange student at Auburn University for a semester and studied abroad in Prague, Czech Republic for a summer. Guo is interested in commercial arbitration law. She chose William & Mary “not only because William & Mary is the oldest law school in America but also the uniquely designed study program for LL.M. students where we are able to have the opportunity to study with JD students.”
Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America's oldest law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.