Pat Tillman Scholarship Recipient Seeks To Foster Change

July 5, 2024
A headshot of UVA Law student Kirk Wolff

UVA law student Kirk Wolff plans to assist his fellow veterans with a Veterans Legal Clinic. (Contributed photograph)

Kirk Wolff uses the lessons of his military service to guide his life.

Wolff, a rising second-year student in the University of Virginia’s School of Law who recently was named a Pat Tillman Scholar, wants to help fellow veterans across the state, beginning with the creation of a veterans legal clinic at the University of Virginia.

“Our clinic could provide criminal legal advice to veterans who are accused of crimes, conduct research and assist with veterans treatment courts that already exist and help expand the program to every county and city in the commonwealth,” said Wolff, who plans to partner with fellow law student and U.S. Navy veteran Eli Sinai in the endeavor.

“We also can help veterans with their benefits and appeals, as the two are not mutually exclusive programs. But I think we would like to mainly focus on the criminal diversion aspect,” Wolff said.

Veterans treatment courts follow diversion models similar to  drug courts and mental health courts which focus on non-adversarial programs that provide resources rather than punishment. 

The Pat Tillman Foundation was created in the memory of Pat Tillman, who suspended a professional football career after the 9/11 terror attacks to enlist in the U.S. Army. Tillman, an Army Ranger, died in 2004 in eastern Afghanistan. Created in 2009, the Tillman Scholar Program has evolved into a community of military service members, veterans and spouses, selecting applicants on merit and potential for impact. Tillman Scholars receive funding for academic expenses and are granted membership in a network of peers, mentors and industry leaders, as well as opportunities for lifelong leadership development.

They are also invited to the annual Pat Tillman Leadership Summit in Chicago and are given access to mini-grants for further leadership development.

Wolff, of Morristown, Tennessee, graduated from U.S. Naval Academy and Walters State Community College. He served as a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy before coming to UVA Law School.

Wolff said lawyers can help people at crisis points in their lives. Being a Tillman Scholar gives him the opportunity to “network with change-minded veterans.”

“Tillman Scholars are advocates for a variety of issues that impact veterans, including homelessness and mental health support, and I am excited to lend my support to those efforts,” Wolff said

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He wants to use the Tillman platform to highlight the issue of cash bail, which he said prolongs the time in jail for poor people, including many veterans, while wealthier people can post bail.

“That is not the type of system I think our veterans fought for,” Wolff said. 

Wolff is modest about his accomplishments and sees the scholarship as a recognition of the people who supported him. 

“I am proud and grateful for this honor, but there are so many veterans that are deserving of recognition who did far more than I did in the service,” Wolff said. “There were so many lessons I had to learn along my path, and I was given patience, mentorship and grace to grow. Without the people in my life who supported me, I would not be here at UVA Law, let alone a Tillman Scholar.”

Primary among those supporters, he said, is his mother, Betsy Stibler, whose example taught him about serving others and building communities.

“I watched her work countless hours to put food on the table and to support my dreams, yet she still made time to volunteer in the community and advocate in our city government,” Wolff said. “Her inspiring example led service and community to become my core values.”

Wolff said a family tradition of military service, especially his grandfather Butch Wolff, an Army veteran, inspired the trajectory of his life.

“I grew so much from my service, mostly because of the sailors I was fortunate enough to lead and the officers who showed me the ropes,” he said. “I had great leaders who supported me during tough times and people who put me in positions to outkick the coverage.”

Wolff, who plans to practice and eventually teach law, is making his mark in school, having been accepted onto the Virginia Law Review’s editorial board.

“Kirk is an incredibly impressive person, a great citizen and an asset to our community,” said Leslie Kendrick, the White Burkett Miller Professor of Law and Public Affairs and the Elizabeth D. and Richard A. Merrill Professor of Law and the new dean of the Law School. “He encapsulates the values of the Tillman Scholarship and the University. Kirk is responsible, respectful and graceful under pressure. Having seen real high-stakes situations, he keeps perspective and helps others do so as well. He has been active in our Virginia Law Veterans organization and is a supportive presence for all his classmates.”

“Kirk is the rare student who is enthusiastic and thoughtful at the same time,” law professor Paul Mahoney said. “He has a fine analytical mind and a winning personality that will make him an exceptional lawyer.”

It’s not all work for Wolff, however. He plays softball and is also president of the Virginia Law Wine Society.

“Wine blends the fields of history, science, geography and law,” he said. “Plus, it is a lot of fun to hang out at wineries with your friends.”

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications