Ashton H. Roberts JD/MELP ?16

In April 2014, Vermont Law student Ashton H. Roberts will present a case involving the Clean Water Act in front of an atypical panel of judges—at the 2014 Miss Vermont competition. "I’m calling it, 'Living Up to the Promise of the Clean Water Act,'” she says. “I’ll try to represent the voice of people concerned about the state of water in our state and our country.”

The competition is something of a fluke for the first-year Vermont student, who was born in Tennessee and raised in Virginia. She’s never competed in a beauty pageant before, and had never considered doing so before spending some time in late 2013 “googling around” to see what scholarship opportunities were out there for students in Vermont. She was surprised to discover that one of the best opportunities for her was through the Miss America organization—the world’s largest provider of scholarship assistance for women 18 to 24 years old. “I thought, Why not? It was a chance to learn about Vermont—and to tell people about myself and what I believe in.”

She noticed that the Colchester-based nonprofit Lake Champlain International was one of the pageant’s sponsors, and sensed a resource that lined up with her passion for clean, accessible water. She called the program’s director, James Ehlers, and together they came up with a framework that would help Ashton research and understand the goals of the Clean Water Act as they related to the vast watershed surrounding Lake Champlain. In the course of her research, Ashton has become aware of lake-to-lake discharge patterns, learned about the relationship between Vermont’s watersheds, and begun volunteering in Champlain International’s “Blue Certification” program. As a requirement of the competition, she’s spent her Sundays learning how to speak and present herself in public—skills that are obviously transferable to a law career.

“It’s already been worth it, no matter what happens on April 26,” she says. “People in my generation need to find chances to take the reins. This is a chance for me to speak to people my age and get them to learn more about something that’s important to all of us—and maybe get them to care.”