On May 21, Vermont Law School celebrated its first in-person commencement ceremony since 2019. Students, families, friends, faculty, staff, alumni and trustees came together to recognize the hard work and achievements of the Class of 2022. Several graduates earned awards for the exceptional qualities they displayed during their time at VLS. Special congratulations go to our award winners!
Diversity Award: Christine S. Paul
This award is given to recognize someone who has inspired multi-cultural awareness in the Vermont Law School community. Earlier this year, Christine penned an open letter to the leadership of VLS, detailing the urgent need to improve equity at the school. Many students, faculty and staff signed on. Already, this effort has led to establishment of a multi-cultural center on campus and the hiring of an Associate Dean for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Action will not stop there, as the leadership has heeded her clarion call and continued working on the issues raised in the open letter. As for Christine, she will spend the next year clerking in New Jersey. She hopes to explore the field of environmental tax law and policy after her clerkship.
Clinical Legal Education Association Winner: Sierra Suafoa-McClain
Awarded for excellence in clinical fieldwork based on the high quality of representation provided to clients and for exceptionally thoughtful, self-reflective participation in an accompanying seminar, as nominated by the clinical faculty of Vermont Law School. Sierra earned this award for their work in the Environmental Justice Clinic. They also co-founded the literary magazine Hearsay at VLS, and served as President of the Native American Law Society, Secretary of the Environmental Justice Law Society, and Public Relations Manager of the Environmental Law Society.
As an Accelerated JD student, Sierra sat for the UBE in July 2021 and had a semester in practice with the Environmental Working Group. Since then, they have applied to be barred in New Mexico. Currently, they're working as Program Engagement Lead with Front And Centered in Seattle. The organization is a coalition of groups led by communities of color in Washington State working towards a Just Transition. Sierra's role is to get to know the needs of the member groups and channel them into the legislative and grassroot work of Front And Centered.
CLEA Outstanding Externship Student Award: William Stocker
This award recognizes a student who has demonstrated excellence in an externship. William completed several internships and externships while at VLS, but it was his work in the Windham County State's Attorney Office that earned him this recognition. Prior to coming to VLS, William served on the unclear submarine USS Wyoming as a nuclear electrician.
He is the judicial law clerk in Windsor Superior Court here in Vermont. "I have been in that position since I have taken the bar, and I cannot picture a better way to begin using the legal education I earned at Vermont Law School," he said.
Jonathon B. Chase Paper Competition Winner: Matthew Dietz
Vermont Law Review established the Chase Paper Writing Competition to recognize excellence in writing. The competition is named for the late Jonathon B. Chase, who was the third dean of Vermont Law School. Only third-year law students, excluding Vermont Law Review members, may participate in the competition. Matthew says "After VLS, I plan on taking the bar and practicing environmental law. Maybe hugging a tree or two, who knows."
Ballenger/Green Paper Competition Winner: Caitlin Alexandra Kennedy
Vermont Law Review established the Ballenger/Green Memorial Paper to provide Vermont Law School students with a forum to explore issues of human diversity in the law through legal scholarship. The competition recognizes and remembers Chandra Ballenger ’02 and Orlando Green ’01. Chandra and Orlando were exemplary VLS students who passed away abruptly during their law school careers. All VLS students may participate in the competition. The papers must address issues of human diversity and the law, such as race, culture, religion, sexual orientation, environmental justice, and international human rights, among others.
Caitlin's work assisting formerly incarcerated individuals in building a career and gaining financial stability led her to VLS and to a career in justice reform. She was a Schweitzer Fellow, and Social Justice Mission Scholar, and SBA Town Liaison. Caitlin is currently interviewing with a holisitic public defender's office based in Harlem, and has also applied for a clerkship with the Vermont Superior Court for the 2022-23 session. She ultimately hopes to establish herself in Vermont and work to reform the criminal legal system at a state and federal level.
National Association of Women Lawyers Outstanding Law Student Award: Diarra Akilah Raymond
Presented to the outstanding law student in the graduating class of participating ABA-approved law schools who demonstrated academic achievement, exhibited motivation, tenacity, and enthusiasm; contributed to the advancement of women in society; promoted issues and concerns of women in the legal profession, and earned the respect of the dean and law faculty.
Diarra made history at VLS as the first Black editor of Vermont Law Review, a position she held for the 2021-22 year. She interned at the Vermont Supreme Court with Justice Harold Eaton JD'80, and was also treasurer for the VLS Black Law Students Association and Christian Law Fellowship. She will spend the summer in Vermont, studying for the bar exam. She is hoping to clerk in New York this fall, and eventually wants to secure a clerkship with the U.S. Supreme Court.
Shirley Jefferson Award for Perseverance: Chianna Hart
Awarded for demonstrating extraordinary tenacity and perseverance in the face of adversity.
While at VLS, Chianna was active in the Black Law Student Association and in Phi Alpha Delta. She plans to take the Illinois Bar and to continue to utilize her Illinois Supreme Court Rule 711 License to practice law under the supervision of Judge Coleman, who also supervised her externship. Her future goals include starting a foundation to give back to her community, which she will name the Hart Desire Foundation, and to establish her own law firm specializing in Family Law and Business Law.
Environmental Leadership Award: Ashely Monti
Awarded to a student who demonstrates environmental leadership.
As staff editor for Vermont Law Review, co-chair of the Food and Agriculture Law Society, and an active member of the Animal Law Society, Ashely showed environmental leadership through her deeds and her words. She also helped her peers heal from loss by facilitating a weekly grief support group. She will clerk for the Maine Supreme Court during the 2022-2023 term and take the Maine Bar Exam this summer.
President's Leadership Award: Simeon Brown and Caresse N. Duru
In appreciation for outstanding loyalty and devotion to the Vermont Law School community.
Both Simeon and Caresse worked hard to support their fellow students and to make VLS a better place. Simeon was the Senior Articles Editor for Vermont Law Review, a Dean's Fellow and Student Ambassador, and a member of the Moot Court Advisory Board. He also served as President of the VLS Students for Out Reach and Education (SCORE), a group which gives back to the South Royalton community. He will take the Virginia Bar Exam in July and start work for the Virginia State Corporation Commission as a Utilities Attorney in the Office of General Counsel in August.
Caresse was on the executive board of the Black Law Students Association and an advanced student clinician at the South Royalton Legal Clinic. She was selected as a JD Class Marshal for graduation, was a 3L senator in the Student Bar Association, and was a student ambassador during her 2L and 3L years. She plans to take the Texas Bar Exam and start work with the Family Law firm Cordell & Cordell.
American Law Institute Continuing Legal Education (ALI CLE) Scholarship and Leadership Award: Michelle Amidzich
This award is given to the student who best represents a combination of scholarship and leadership, the qualities embodied by the American Law Institute.
This combination of attributes made Michelle an ideal Editor in Chief for the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law. She was also News Editor for the VLS Forum. Also a MFALP graduate, she is passionate about using the law to protect animal rights and promote animal interests. After graduation, Michelle will clerk for the Rhode Island Trial Court for the 2022-2023 term.
International Academy of Trial Lawyers Student Advocacy Award: Salvador Segura
Given for distinguished achievement in the art and science of advocacy.
During his three years at VLS, Salvador amassed a record of moot court competition excellence. In 2021, he and his partner Marissa Pizaña JD'21 won Best Brief and placed second overall at the National Latino/a Law Student Association Moot Court Competition. He was also on the Emory Moot Court Team this fall, where they advanced to the octofinals. Salvador will sit for the Washington State Bar in July and start his legal career this fall as a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney with the Criminal Division of the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office in Washington.
Learned Hand Award for Academic Excellence: Ashely Monti and Mariah Harrod (tie)
The Learned Hand Award, endowed by a gift from the late Judge Sterry R. Waterman, is awarded to the graduate(s) with the highest cumulative average as of the end of the fifth semester.
Both Ashely and Mariah showed a strong committment to academic excellence at VLS. Mariah was the Symposium Editor for Vermont Law Review and a United Nations COP26 delegate in Fall 2021. As a clinician in the Environmental Justice Clinic, she worked on Vermont's environmental justice policy, signed into law weeks after graduation.
In addition to her achievements mentioned above, Ashely also served as a teaching assistant for Legal Research and a student mentor for the Academic Success Program.
Maximilian W. Kempner Award: Fito Andre
Established in 1996 to honor the fifth dean of VLS. Max Kempner brought dignity and civility to the profession, and sought to hold the legal profession and its members to the highest standards of competence, integrity, respect, fair-mindedness and public service. This award is given each year to the graduate who best exemplifies this attributes.
Anyone who knows Fito (which is everyone at VLS) will agree that Fito embodies all of these qualities and more. He served as a Student Ambassador, Tech TA, Student Member of the Board of Trustees,and Administrative Editor for the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law. He was elected Class Speaker for commencement, and plans to join the Air Force JAG Corps to continue his public service.
Lex Pro Urbe et Orbe Award: Heather Francis
This award, created in 1979 by the Vermont Law School Alumni Association, recognizes the contributions students make within the campus community. The recipient is chosen by the VLSAA Board of Directors, in conjunction with the school's president and dean, in honor of the individual's thoughtful interest and dedication to enriching the VLS community.
Even amidst the group of community-minded people that comprise the student body of VLS, Heather stands out. She created care packages during the pandemic for her fellow students, worked to secure funds for the school's food pantry, participated in DEI initiatives, and managed the notes process for Vermont Law Review. "She perfectly embodies everything the award stands for," the VLS Alumni Office noted. Heather will be clerking for the Maine Supreme Court next year.