Grit and Resilience – these two terms define 2020. When our students departed for Spring Break, little did they expect that just one week later they would be living in a very different world – one in which the coronavirus would thwart their return to Hirsch Hall, force them to adapt to a new learning approach, require them to represent clients where courts might not be easily accessible, migrate rituals like commencement online and create a bleak economic outlook.
These times, in short, are giving them a crash course in grit and resilience.
Yet this crash course will make them better lawyers – and people. Like generations that preceded them, our students and our School of Law community are rising to the occasion. When the pandemic suspended most instruction for two weeks, our clinics continued. They maintained their operations without interruption to ensure that the needs of their clients – whether an abuse victim or a small business – were met. Our students, faculty and staff seamlessly pivoted to online learning, finished the semester and completed over 1,100 exams remotely without any significant incident. When the pandemic and accompanying economic wreckage affected members of our community, our team responded – whether with technological support, emergency funds, leaps of faith or simply the comforting reassurance that we were in their corner. This spirit and determination remain with us this fall as our faculty, staff and students embrace the opportunities and work through the ongoing challenges that confront us all.
This response is hardly surprising: Grit and resilience define our community. These qualities can be found in our first-generation college graduates, including our Amos First-Start Scholars, featured in this magazine (which is our first digital-only issue). They are evident in our veterans, supported by the Butler Commitment, and drawn by the important work of the Veterans Legal Clinic. Grit and resilience produce a strong work ethic. Members of the advocacy program displayed that work ethic, winning the National Moot Court Competition title (one of several victories over the past year). More generally, our law school continues to produce national, state and local leaders; top-notch practitioners who serve their business and individual clients at an exceptionally high level; and incredibly dedicated public service lawyers who provide much needed legal services to the less fortunate among us.
We have been successful in large part due to the support from alumni, alumnae and friends. Your support equipped us with the resources to remain competitive and to confront the unexpected. During the course of the Commit to Georgia Campaign, you provided over $61 million in new commitments. Those resources:
- created approximately 20 Distinguished Law Fellowships, the School of Law’s marquee scholarship modeled on UGA’s Foundation Fellowship.
- guaranteed financial aid to every veteran.
- provided aid to every new first-generation college graduate for the past two years.
- supported 18 clinical and experiential learning opportunities, including the direct creation of three new clinics. Notably, six experiential learning opportunities have been established at the law school since 2014.
- helped approximately 200 students in judicial, governmental, public interest and research positions during the summer of 2020.
With seed funding from UGA President and 1980 alumnus Jere W. Morehead, your commitments also established the Benham Scholars and Robinson Scholars programs, helping students with a demonstrated commitment to legally underserved communities. These resources also helped us reduce student debt and earn the back-to-back title as the nation’s Best Value in Legal Education.
While the Commit to Georgia Campaign has ended, the work continues. It will require us, as a community, to exhibit our own grit and resilience. The pandemic and accompanying economic decline create exceptional challenges for both legal education and higher education and they strike at a time when the university, including the law school, is embarking on a new strategic plan.
Our plan sets a bold vision. You will learn more about it in the coming months. In short, it preserves our core strength as the nation’s best return on investment in legal education while expanding our horizons. Those new possibilities reflect lessons learned from this crisis. We will grow partnerships for externally funded research and educate a wider array of students, including undergraduates. We will invest in the technologies needed to learn and interact in different ways. Put simply, we are meeting and taking advantage of the opportunities and transforming this into an exciting time to rethink how we train tomorrow’s professionals. This strategic vision, especially in strong fiscal headwinds, is both incredibly exhilarating and understandably unnerving. Realizing it will require grit and resilience from us all.
Yet, I am reminded, this institution has been through a great deal over its 160+ year history – eight wars, the Great Depression and the last great pandemic – just to name a few challenges. What we do builds on the legacy of those who shepherded the institution through them. Now, as then, we will confront challenges, rise to the occasion and emerge stronger.
Thank you for all you do,
Peter B. “Bo” Rutledge
Dean and Herman E. Talmadge Chair of Law