Class of 2016 Brings Diversity of Experiences to UVA Law
Prior to enrolling at the University of Virginia School of Law, incoming first-year student Erica Aghedo worked as an assistant vice president at Citigroup, consulted at the United Nations, spent a year as a volunteer assisting immigrants, helped coordinate an elder law project in Pittsburgh, worked on bankruptcy and creditors' rights cases as an intern at a New York City law firm, and earned a master's degree in international relations from Columbia University.
"Attending law school allows me to tie together all these experiences I've been privileged to have, and I think it will set me on a professional path to use what I've learned — and what I will learn, by way of a legal education — for personal growth and to hopefully be of value to society," she said.
Aghedo is one of 336 students in UVA Law's Class of 2016, who attended orientation on Monday and start classes today. (Full Class Profile)
Members of the class, which were selected from a pool of 6,067 applicants, earned a median undergraduate GPA of 3.87 and received a median LSAT score of 169. They come from 40 states, the District of Columbia and nine foreign countries, and attended 148 undergraduate institutions. Forty-two percent are women and 24 percent identify themselves as minorities.
"You're an extraordinary group of individuals," Senior Assistant Dean for Admissions Anne Richard told the Class of 2016 at orientation. "You represent incredible diversity in terms of academic, professional and personal accomplishments. This group of people is truly, truly rich. We're so proud to have you as members of our law school community and one day we'll be delighted to welcome you to our profession."
Aghedo said she was interested in pursuing a legal career because she likes working with people and problem-solving.
Aghedo, who is originally from Nigeria, said she is interested in immigration issues, though she is looking forward to learning about all aspects of the law.
After graduating from Harvard University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in social studies, Aghedo volunteered with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Newark in New Jersey to help immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers fill out forms, apply for relief, prepare for hearings and obtain resettlement services.
"It was really wonderful exposure," she said. "In addition to the fact that I come from an immigrant background, that year was very influential for me. I got to see firsthand the impact of the law — how lawyers use the law as a tool to solve their clients' most difficult problems. "
Sarah Robinson Borders, a 1988 graduate of UVA Law and a partner in King & Spalding's financial restructuring practice group, delivered an orientation speech to the Class of 2016 on Monday, following an introduction by Law School Dean Paul Mahoney.
Until recently, Aghedo worked in Citigroup's transaction services business, helping to manage complex, client-facing, treasury solutions deals. This past summer, she worked at a New York City law firm, gaining familiarity in the practice areas of bankruptcy and creditors' rights.
"I feel really lucky to have had all these experiences," she said. "I'm definitely open to additional interests that I know that I will develop at UVA Law. I just want to learn as much as I can, soak it all in."
Matt Shandy, another member of the Class of 2016, studied political science at the University of Oklahoma, and held internships with U.S. Rep. Tom Cole and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin.
"Those experiences gave me a tremendous respect for the influence of the law and the impact of the law on people's lives," he said. "It was something that I wanted to be a part of."
While interning in the governor's office, Shandy said, one experience in particular stood out.
"This woman called the governor's office and she was seeking a pardon," he said. "For me, answering a phone call and hearing the person on the other end of the phone saying, 'I'm requesting information on how to seek a pardon' — it was pretty profound. There wasn't much I could do, other than direct her to the appropriate staffer. But in that moment, I witnessed firsthand how the law is not simply an abstract idea. It is something very tangible and personal."
Shandy said he was first drawn to the Law School based on its reputation, but decided to study here after visiting.
"It was the people and community that convinced me to stay," he said. "The people that I met, particularly here at the Law School, were just so warm and welcoming. The interest that they seemed to take in me and the warmth with which they embraced me, I thought was pretty special."
In addition to his jobs in politics, Shandy also held an internship in the corporate development office of Chesapeake Energy Corp., an oil and natural gas company in Oklahoma City.
"It gave me a whole newfound respect for how large corporations interact with government, what's involved in their lobbying efforts, trying to ensure that they message in a way that accurately communicates to both government officials and ordinary citizens what exactly it is that they're doing," he said.
Shandy said he is interested in exploring corporate law and health care law while at UVA, though he is keeping an open mind.
"I obviously want to take advantage of all the opportunities that I can, whether through specific courses, clinics or extracurricular activities," he said. "I want to make the most of my time here. I know UVA Law has some study abroad opportunities, which is something that I didn't do as an undergrad, so I'm interested in taking a look at that."
Incoming first-year law student Elena Faria said she has always been interested in the law, but gained a greater passion for advocacy as a freshman at the University of South Carolina when she joined the school's judicial council that hears student disciplinary cases.
"Working there, I got to sit on the panels that heard cases about students who had violated the code of conduct or the honor code, and I found that I really enjoyed sitting on the Carolina Judicial Council and listening to all sides of the story," Faria said. "Helping students understand and take responsibility for their behavior was really interesting to me."
As an undergrad, Faria studied broadcast journalism and was torn between pursuing a career in TV news or the law. To help make the decision one summer, she got two jobs, one at an NBC affiliate in South Carolina and one at the South Carolina Attorney General's Office.
"I loved working in the news station, but I found I loved working in the attorney general's office even more," she said. In the attorney general's office, Faria worked in the Internet Crimes Against Children division, which addressed crimes such as child pornography and the solicitation of children online.
"They had me working on those cases, and they also had me work on a research grant that characterized traits of online predators so that we could keep children out of the same situations that we were investigating in the office," she said. "I felt like everything I did in that office really mattered and was making a difference in families' lives."
Faria, who said she is passionate about advocating on behalf of women and children, was drawn to UVA in part because it offered opportunities such as the Child Advocacy, Prosecution and Family Mediation clinics, as well as the Center for Children, Families, and the Law.
"I can't see myself being anything but a lawyer," she said. "I can't see myself being professionally satisfied by anything else. So through the clinics and the classes, I just want to learn more about the inner workings of the law and the skills that I'll need to be an effective attorney and advocate."
At the same time, Faria said, she is not limiting herself to any particular kind of legal practice.
"This past summer, I worked at a law firm and found that I enjoyed insurance, business and property law cases as well," she said.
UVA Law, she added, was her dream school.
"The Grounds are beautiful. Charlottesville is lovely. For a small town, it's got everything. And it's just such a great school, with a great reputation," she said. "Nationwide, everybody knows about UVA. I felt like this school had the resources to help me succeed, and at the time I thought I could contribute to the incoming class in a significant way, I hope."