After graduating from Wellesley College, Shani Cooke spent four years in Egypt studying Arabic at the American University of Cairo. She subsequently served as a New York-based political affairs officer in the U.N.’s Africa Division of the Department of Political Affairs, and for the United States Agency for International Development in Washington, D.C. Now she’s beginning her legal studies at Duke.
“The decision to come to law school took more than a few years to make, but the decision to come to Duke wasn’t nearly as hard,” said Cooke, whose mother graduated from Duke University. “I think I knew the Duke fight song before I knew my ABCs.”
Having just completed LEAD Week, Duke Law’s 1L welcome and orientation to law school and the legal profession, Cooke said she’s impressed with her classmates’ accomplishments. “They bring an amazing wealth of experience with them,” she said. “I’m looking forward to learning both in and out of the classroom — and catching a few basketball games, of course!”
The 211 members of Duke Law’s JD class of 2016 were chosen from a field of 5,014 applicants and represent 102 different undergraduate institutions. They begin law school alongside 87 lawyers from 39 countries earning the one-year LLM in American Law, and 11 graduate attorneys pursuing Duke’s one-year LLM in Law and Entrepreneurship.
“The diversity of experience represented in this room is amazing,” Bill Hoye, Associate Dean of Admissions and Student Affairs, told the 1L class. “You are truly a terrific class. We are proud of your accomplishments and look forward to your contributions here at Duke.”
Along with 32 other JD candidates who are concurrently working toward Duke’s LLM in International and Comparative Law or LLM in Law and Entrepreneurship, or another graduate degree at Duke University, Chantalle Carles experienced LEAD Week after getting a head start on her 1L studies by taking two core classes in the summer.
“The first few months at Duke Law have been incredible,” said Carles, who is pursuing a joint degree with a Master’s in English in addition to her JD. “I am constantly taken aback by the diversity of experiences, intelligence, humility and kindness of all my classmates. The faculty and their wealth of experiences as well as commitment to their students is exceptional.”
Carles, who first came to North Carolina as a special education English teacher with Teach for America, said she was drawn to Duke Law, in part, by the opportunities presented by the Duke Legal Clinics. “It’s important for me to feel connected to people no matter the work I am doing, so I feel that the clinics and other pro bono projects make that possible even while I’m still in school,” she said.
For United States Marine Corps veteran Sean Murphy, Duke’s clinical program also was a draw, as were the externship opportunities.
“I was very attracted to the Guantanamo Defense Clinic and the Duke in D.C. program,” said Murphy, who deployed to Iraq during his five-year military career, completing more than 9,000 air operations with a perfect safety record. “I have been intrigued by the criminal justice system as it relates to the global war on terror for quite some time, and the Guantanamo Defense Clinic provides a great opportunity to get firsthand experience. The Duke in D.C. program seemed to be a great way to gain invaluable experience in regards to federal policymaking and regulations; an experience that I feel could be a great boon to my future career.” Murphy majored in the languages and cultures of Asia at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Jay Leff, who spent three years after graduating from Vassar College backpacking and working his way around the world, said he is looking forward to studying matters relating to international human rights and asylum at Duke.
“I’ve worked as a brewer, a bartender, a professional scuba diver, a forklift driver — basically anything you could think of,” he said. “But I was feeling pretty unfulfilled in a lot of ways. I think I’d like to have some doors open to me where I could have more of an impact on individuals.” Leff’s interest in asylum, he explained, originated in his hometown of Burlington, Vermont, where he went to school with a number of participants in the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, which helps refugees adapt to life in the United States.
In addition to the draw of the new International Human Rights Clinic, Leff said his experience over admitted students weekend made choosing Duke an easy decision.
“I always follow my heart, and after admitted students weekend I knew it would be the right decision. It felt like the right place to be and it could be home for me.”