Class of 2017 presents Justin Miller Awards at Graduation Gala

May 15, 2017Duke Law News

Graduation weekend events kicked off in Star Commons Thursday night with the Graduation Gala and presentation of the Justin Miller Awards to members of the class of 2017.

The Justin Miller Award winners are selected by their peers as demonstrating the highest levels of citizenship, leadership, intellectual curiosity, and integrity during their time at Duke Law. The awards honor the example and memory of Justin Miller, the Law School’s dean from 1930 to 1934, who implemented values at Duke that remain foundational to the Duke Blueprint to LEAD and to the Duke Law experience.

Christian Vazquez ’17 received the Award for Citizenship, which is given to an individual with “a genuine enthusiasm for the Duke Law School community” and “someone who brings people together in constructive ways.”

“[Vazquez] was fondly referred to as our social chair, a position which did not exist at all,” said presenter Jessica Christensen ’17. “He is a friendly, warm individual who sees a friend in everyone. All are included in his circle. At his core he accepts all people and cares about them. He is Duke at its best.”

Vazquez served as treasurer of the Duke Bar Association, articles editor for the Alaska Law Review, and worked in the International Human Rights Clinic.

The Award for Leadership, which is given to a graduating student active at Duke Law and in the greater community, was shared by Rosie McKinley JD/LLM ’17 and Marcus Benning ’17 T’14.

“[McKinley] deserves this award not only for her leadership and role as Duke Bar Association president, but because she genuinely cares about the Duke Law community,” said presenter Shanna Rifkin ’17. “She has worked tirelessly to represent the interests of Duke Law students.”

In addition to her work on the Duke Bar Association, McKinley served as attorney general of the Duke Graduate and Professional Student Council and as executive editor of the Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy.

Christine Umeh ’17 noted that Benning “consistently worked to involve the Law School in issues outside our building. He brings tremendous enthusiasm to everything in which he participates and continues to work to bring students and administrators to the same table.”

Benning was president of the Black Law Students Association and Duke Graduate and Professional Student Council, served on the board of directors for the Duke Chronicle, and was a student representative at the North Carolina Bar Association.

Glenn Chappell ’17 received the Award for Intellectual Curiosity, the recipient of which “has an intellectual hunger and passion for the law.” Chappell was managing editor of Duke Law Journal, a Moot Court Board member, and co-director of the Cancer Pro Bono Project.

“Glenn’s love for learning is obvious from his dogged preparation for every class and his endeavors to take difficult and intellectually rewarding ones,” said presenter Ace Factor ’17. “His intellectual curiosity is obvious to me just from working closely with him and seeing all the ways he enjoys learning.”

The Award for Integrity, which is given to “a courageous person with strong principles, a solid character, and a true sense of altruism,” was shared by Kate Wheelock ’17 T’13 and Shannon Welch ’17.

“[Wheelock’s] humility is exceeded only by her accomplishments, of which there are many,” McKinley said, presenting the award. “She is the archetypal Duke student in that she works very hard but you would never know it by her easygoing demeanor and her generosity with her time with each of us. While many of us were engaging in what might be called ‘misery poker,’ she never complained, she just put her head down and went to work.”

Wheelock was lead editor of the Alaska Law Review, a case leader on the Innocence Project, and a member of the Mock Trial Board and Duke Bar Association.

Welch, said Gabs Lucero ’17, “is dedicated to making a better world. She is fearless and doesn’t back down from what might appear to be a difficult struggle when fighting for something she believes in.”

Welch served as executive director of the Innocence Project, vice president of the Coalition Against Gendered Violence, and on the Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy and in the Wrongful Convictions Clinic.

Lucero also paid tribute to last year’s winner of the Integrity Award, Richard Lin ’16, who was killed in a car accident May 9. Students observed a moment of silence to remember and honor him.

“Quoting Christine Kim, who presented his award last year, ‘Richard was regarded as one of the most honorable, generous, respectable, grounded, and trustworthy people in the Law School,’” Lucero said. “Shannon has the same spirit and compassion for others. Rich was a friend and mentor to Shannon and there is no better way to honor Rich than to present the same award to his friend.”

Tomoko Fujii LLM ’17 received the LLM Leadership and Community Participation Award. Nominator Edward Comber LLM ’17 said that Fujii “has been unquestioningly inclusive of each and every one of us right from day one, demonstrating a remarkable emotional intelligence that has made [her] the go-to person for friendship and support. [She] is a testament to something we so often forget as lawyers: that you can be kind and you can be compassionate without compromising your success.”

Closing out the evening's program, class gift committee co-chairs Vazquez, Cameron Hammel JD/LLM ’17, and Anna de Jong LLM ’17 presented a $65,401 check to Dean David F. Levi. Thanking the students, Levi noted that more than half of the class has given in the ongoing fundraising initiative.