Stephanie Williams, a young woman from Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood who recognizes the value of giving back, is the 2012 winner of the $25,000 Lucy Sprague Public Interest Scholarship at The John Marshall Law School.
Williams, a January 2012 graduate of John Marshall, received the honor at the law school’s 193rd commencement ceremonies on June 3, 2012.
The scholarship was established in 1998 in the memory of Lucy Sprague of Boston who was a second-year student at The John Marshall Law School when she was murdered in December 1996. Her parents, Lee and the Honorable George R. Sprague (ret.), brother, Alexander, and sister, Cynthia, established the scholarship to assist another student interested, as Lucy was, in a profession in public service. The monetary award will help Williams pay down her law school debt.
Williams will begin a two-year judicial clerkship in September with Judge Mark Dinsmore, a United States magistrate judge of the Southern District of Indiana. In the interim, she has a short-term position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reviewing legislation and implementing policy for the three U of I campuses.
Williams is excited by what she will learn from the judge, but her dream is to organize a free legal services center to help the needy.
“That is what I think public interest is all about—helping those in need,” she said.
Williams took two buses and a train to get to Providence St. Mel High School on Chicago’s west side from her home in Englewood. Her mother enrolled her there because she knew the high school had a 100 percent college placement rate. “It was a long but rewarding struggle to get to where I am now,” she says. “I credit the principal, Mr. Paul Adams, and the teachers there for my accomplishments because without their teaching methods and discipline, I am not sure where I would be.”
Williams hopes to go back into her neighborhood and speak to the youth “about overcoming the many educational and financial obstacles that have been systematically placed in their way.
“My hope is to influence at least one of them to stay focused on the path to accomplish his or her goals. I want my greatest accomplishment to be that I inspired someone else to become a lawyer who will help others,” she added.
Williams, a January 2012 graduate of John Marshall, volunteered five of her six semesters of law school. At her commencement, Williams received cum laude honors for graduating in the top 10 of her class. She was on the Dean’s List five semesters, was a team member on the Gibbons Criminal Procedure Moot Court Competition, and was a staff member of The John Marshall Law Review. Her article on the Illinois Eavesdropping Act appears in the winter 2011 issue of the law review.
Williams began her volunteer efforts when she was a student at the University of Illinois. She used her bilingual skills to teach English to Spanish-speaking children while a student in Spain. “These children taught me Spanish just as much as I taught them English. They showed me Spanish culture, customs and slang. It was a learning experience for the both of us.”
She worked for several years and then enrolled at John Marshall. She got busy right at the start. “I couldn’t work my first semester (of law school), but I could volunteer. I tutored inner-city youth at the Griffith’s Tutoring Program helping them prepare for the college entrance ACT exam,” Williams said.
The summer after her first year, Williams began working at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office as a law clerk in the Child Support Enforcement Division and the two semesters of her second year, Williams was at the Auto Theft Division. She returned to Urbana during summer breaks to work at the Champaign County’s State’s Attorney’s Office.
Her third year, Williams externed a semester with Judge Alexander White at the Circuit Court of Cook County and volunteered for the Chicago Volunteer Legal Service’s (CVLS) Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program, and the Cook County Assessor’s Office.
“What I love about all the jobs that I had is that I felt like I’ve helped people one way or another,” she said. “What I particularly love about CVLS is that I am helping victims. They are victims of the mortgage foreclosure crisis that impacts millions of Americans. It is almost poetic that I started and ended my law school career as a volunteer for public service.”