Sept. 4, 2007 — With the highest median grade-point average and Law School Admissions Test scores in the history of the Law School, the class of 2010 has carved its place as the best class ever. They range in age from 17 to 57, come from 40 states and two foreign countries, and represent 129 different undergraduate institutions. The 361 students that make up the class of 2010 all bring with them a diversity of experiences and backgrounds to suggest the makings of lively classroom interactions.
“You are very, very good academically,” Dean John Jeffries said in his address to the entering class at orientation. “You are the most qualified class ever to enroll in the history of the Law School.”
Each year since 2002 the credentials of the entering class have increased steadily, said Associate Dean for Admissions Susan Palmer. The number of admitted students who presented both a GPA and LSAT score at or above the median increased 64 percent from 2004 to 2006. “I think students are doing their research — so they know Virginia is a fabulous institution — and that we’re doing a better job getting that information out there, aggressively recruiting the very best students, communicating with them more effectively, and as a result they are applying in greater numbers to Virginia.”
Some from this year’s entering class came straight from their undergraduate schooling, while others have made career changes after years in the workforce, but each of them brings unique experiences from their lives before law school. “To me, what is remarkable about the class is the variety of other things that they’ve done, the experiences that they bring to this community,” Palmer said. “I tell prospective students that the law school classroom is not a lecture environment. If it were, I suppose it wouldn’t matter who sat in the seats and who we lectured to. It really matters that there be a variety of voices engaged in the classroom conversation, and that’s one of the things we look for when we’re making decisions.”
Students in this class also bring a global perspective. “These students have spent a significant amount of time working and living overseas and I would bet that easily over half of the class has spent a significant amount of time in another country,” Palmer noted. “That’s remarkable. They are members of the global community in a way that has not been true in prior years. I think that is pretty exciting.”
Brian Vanyo came to law school after serving nine years in the Navy as a Naval Flight Officer. Following graduation from the Naval Academy and completing flight school, Vanyo flew in one of the Navy’s primary maritime fighter jets, the F-14 Tomcat, in two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Essentially for both deployments our mission was to support the troops on the ground and we were always over head in a capacity to drop weapons or fly by just to disperse the crowds if need be,” he said.
After his deployments, Vanyo was assigned to work at the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) in Washington D.C. where he served as an air defense analyst for three years. “Basically we were a bunch of aviators from different communities, different aircraft platforms that were imbedded in the intelligence community at ONI and what we did there was offer operator perspective to the analysis.”
Vanyo, who hails from North Dakota, was part of a two-plane fly-by at game one of the 2004 American League Championship Series over Yankee Stadium in New York, where below him the Yankees were about to play the Boston Red Sox. “It was a lot of fun flying so low through New York City. And then afterwards the reception we got in the stadium — it was almost like a hero’s welcome,” he recalled.
Vanyo’s commitment to the Navy ended in mid-August and he decided that law school was his next adventure. “It definitely was a tough decision to make,” he said. “Flying on the aircraft carrier was a blast. It was just a huge adrenaline rush, being launched off the catapults and landing.”
Vanyo’s family is thrilled about his decision to go to law school. “My wife is very supportive,” he said. “It was a welcomed decision. Just knowing that if I were to stay in the Navy I would be going on deployments, so even though law school and a legal career will be busy, I think that being able to be home is important.”
Kara Allen spent four months before law school as an intern at the Navy’s Marine Mammal Program in San Diego where she helped train dolphins and sea lions to detect sea mines and serve as watch dogs for naval bases. “Basically what the animals do is find the mines and then show divers where they are and the divers come in and dismantle the mines. The mines are not meant to go off when animals go near them otherwise they would be useless, so it’s a really safe way to do it,” she said.
She also helped conduct research on dolphin behavior and assisted veterinarians with medical procedures. Training the animals “was a lot of hard physical labor and it’s a lot of disgusting work. I smelled like fish the whole time, you just can’t get the smell off,” Allen joked. In addition to working, the animals learned fun behaviors. “They all have different personalities, and it's funny because some of them can tell that you're inexperienced and they'll test you to see how much they can get away with,” she said.
Her background in animal training began while she was a psychology and English student at Wesleyan University. One of her jobs in college was to train rats to perform tasks such as running on a treadmill.
Allen was reluctant to apply to law schools at first because she didn’t want to be just like everyone in her family. Her great grandfather and his three sons started the law firm Allen, Allen, Allen and Allen in Richmond, which now has branches in Petersburg, Fredericksburg, Mechanicsville, Chesterfield and Garrisonville. Her father, her uncles, and her aunt have all become lawyers in the family business. “When I was 15, working at the firm was my first job. I did a lot of receptionist stuff, a lot of filing and sometimes throughout the summers they’d ask me to come back and work on temporary projects.
“[Law school] had always been in the back of my mind” she added. “I always thought of the study of law as something that was really interesting. I was interested in criminology in college and it just got to a point where as I was reading about criminology and I thought that having a law degree would be really helpful.”
Allen decided to come to U.Va. before she realized that many of her family members including her father, grandfather, and great grandfather had come here for their legal education. “I really like the cooperative atmosphere that I’ve heard about. I like that it’s not about cutthroat competition, but working together — I really like that attitude.”
Of course, her family is glad that she chose U.Va. for law school. “I think my dad did a good job of keeping his excitement at a minimum, but once he found out I got in I think he told almost everyone in the Richmond area. My whole family was really excited about it.”
After teaching for two years at the Boston Community Leadership Academy, a public high school in Boston, Puerto Rico native Jose Masini decided to start his legal education. He took a year off to apply to law schools, travel to India, become a certified life coach, and work at his father’s firm in Puerto Rico. “Going to law school was something that I had thought about since college, but I had also thought about teaching,” he said. While working on his degree in history from Harvard, Masini concurrently earned his teaching licensure.
The Boston Community Leadership Academy was previously called Boston High School and had a reputation for having the lowest test scores in its district and was almost closed. Since its name change and its status as a pilot school, it has made a complete turnaround and is now a model for the district. “It was definitely an exciting school to be teaching at,” Masini said. In fact, it was hard for him to leave. He had been offered permanency, Boston’s equivalent of tenure, and had held many leadership positions including department chair and debate team coach. “I could have easily stayed there,” he said. “But at the same time, that was something that motivated me to leave the school then and there, because I knew that if I didn’t leave, I would start building a life there and I might never come to law school, which I had known more or less from the beginning that, that was my end goal.”
Masini was raised around the law, both of his parents are lawyers and he has 11 family members who practice law. “I almost feel like now I get to be part of the conversation or at least understand what they’re saying,” he said. “At the same time when you go to teach at a public school, you see what’s happening there and if you have any kind of interest in law it’s really hard to resist the urge to want to go into some kind of public interest law or feel that you really want to use knowledge of the law to help people like the ones you’re teaching.”