Meet the Class of 2009
From a Navy fighter pilot to a NCAA basketball star, the 375 first-year students that make up the class of 2009 come from a sweeping variety of backgrounds. They range in age from 18 to 55, come from 36 states and six foreign countries, and represent 143 different undergraduate institutions. They all came to law school for unique reasons and at different times in their lives, but are beginning the journey together at U.Va.
Douglas Andre spent 23 years as a pilot in the Navy, flying planes off aircraft carriers and mentoring enlistees. "It was a great, rewarding, fulfilling, value-added life. When I retired, I knew I would never be able to replicate that passion in my professional life, so I tried to do it elsewhere," Andre said. But he was not successful at reigniting his passion-at least not at first. While working as a government defense contractor, he found himself mesmerized by the Bill Clinton impeachment process and the John Roberts proceedings. He decided that he could see himself working as a lawyer.
Making the decision to go to U.Va. was a complex one for Andre and his family, but ultimately a smooth transition for the nontraditional student. Andre's wife, Debbie, who is a teacher, was ready for a change, and their two kids, who are just finishing up college, are settling into their new routines after moving from Virginia Beach to Charlottesville. Starting a new career in a program where the median age is 24, Andre feels a little out of place, but he likes the course work. "It's great. It's like Thanksgiving dinner for me. I just can't get enough of it," he said. "It's an absolutely different part of your brain, obviously, that you use for this kind of intellectual rigor, versus doing something that is fairly standard and routine," he added.
Amadou Kilkenny-Diaw, who grew up in Washington, D.C., came to law school after a successful senior year on the basketball team at Georgetown University. Georgetown upset number-one ranked Duke in the regular season and made it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Championship last year. The versatile, six-foot nine-inch Kilkenny-Diaw played a nontraditional center position that allowed him to handle the ball and lead the team's offense.
Kilkenny-Diaw majored in English and minored in computer science, and was awarded the Mary Fenlon Award for his academic achievements both his junior and senior years. "One of the main things I had to do in college was manage my time very well. I'd be in the gym from about four and get home from dinner at nine every night and then have a full night's worth of homework. Being able to go from practice straight to the books was pretty tough. I feel like it prepared me well for what I'll be doing here and the amount of reading and studying that I'm going to have to do."
Kilkenny-Diaw's mother, who is president for institutional diversity and equity at Georgetown University and an attorney, instilled in him a passion for law. She came to the United States from Guyana in South America. His father, a businessman, works in Senegal. "I've always had an interest in the law," Kilkenny-Diaw said. "I feel that if used properly it can be a tool to do a lot of good in the world and in our country especially. It's been something that I've always wanted to pursue."
While Kilkenny-Diaw is just starting on the path to his professional career, neurosurgeon Andrew Chiou was ready to build on his skills in order to help others.
"My purpose in attending law school is to augment my armamentarium in advocating for the underserved and underprivileged," he said. Chiou, who spent seven years practicing in underserved areas of Mississippi, treated traumatic brain and spinal cord injury patients, and patients who elected to have skull base surgery, brain tumor surgery, and spinal surgery. Before Chiou set up shop in Mississippi, area patients and their families were forced to travel hundreds of miles to major cities for neurosurgical care.
Chiou, a native Virginian, looks forward to living in Charlottesville and pursuing his law degree. "My wife, Brenda, and I are very excited about the prospect of spending three years in such an idyllic region of Virginia," he said. "Charlottesville is the perfect place to live and undertake the study of law."
Russian-born Elisabeth Falaleev knew she wanted to go to into law most of her life. Her career began as a paralegal in New York City. After one year, she was transferred to London, where she took a two-week break to participate in a wine harvest in Burgundy, France, and fell in love with the world of wine. She was transferred again a year later to France, where the work week was only 35 hours. With her newfound spare time she worked in a wine shop and soon learned about L'UniversitÃ© du Vin (the University of Wine), housed in a 12th-century chateau in Suze-la-Rousse. Falaleev enrolled in the European wine law program which is conferred by the UniversitÃ© d'Aix-Marseille's law school. One of only two Americans to ever be admitted, she graduated valedictorian of her class.
The natural next step for Falaleev was to get her J.D., and she began applying to law schools in the United States. "I always thought I'd be a lawyer," she said. "I just took the scenic route."
Although she likes and is familiar with the corporate realm of law, Falaleev said, "there is a part of me that would like to head out West to see if I can't bring together my love of wine and transactional law."