We are proud to announce this year’s winner of the Emmanuel Sheppard & Condon Essay Scholarship, Danielle Taylor!
Ms. Taylor is a first-year law student at Chicago-Kent College of Law. She received her Bachelor’s in Sociology with a Global Business Foundations Certificate from the University of Texas at Austin. Throughout her undergraduate studies, Ms. Taylor worked as a plaintiff’s civil litigation paralegal, developing a passion for vindicating clients’ rights to fairness, equity, and justice. This summer, she will work as a Judicial Extern for the Honorable Judge Joan Lefkow of the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois.
Below is Ms. Taylor’s essay where she discusses the parts of her life that pushed her toward a career in law and what she hopes to accomplish as a future attorney. We could not be happier to award Ms. Taylor with this scholarship to help her achieve her goals.
My memories of going to the courthouse for the parole hearings of the man who killed my father feel so far away from today. My dad sold drugs and was the victim of gang violence, murdered at just 21 years old. I was two. My dad was a bad man, but he was a good man too. He was complicated in the way most people are. He told my mom that he wanted a home with white columns out front for me. He wanted me to be smart like her. He wanted us to get out of Robstown.
My mom graduated at the top of her high school and was accepted to Rice University before realizing she would never be able to attend. As an undocumented immigrant, she would have to pay the international student tuition rate and had no way to take out student loans. As a degree was prohibitively expensive, she was recruited into the Army with the hope that her service could help her obtain citizenship and eventually pay for school. My Mom always emphasized the importance of education, and her service in the military helped fund my undergraduate degree. She sees my successes as her own, and I understand why.
I left for college unsure of what I would pursue knowing how important it was that I go. My advisor suggested a career in law, but I did not have any exposure to the field, much less know any attorneys. Consequently, I found work at a law firm downtown. I’ve worked in law offices for nearly six years and found more than I ever could have imagined. I found work about which I am just as passionate as I am talented. I was promoted and supported and found a community of attorneys who push me forward, taking the time to teach me, value my hard work, and encourage my curiosity.
I enjoyed undertaking legal research and drafting pleadings and discovery, but the most fulfilling part of my work was helping clients. People retained the firms I worked for because they had faced some hardship. Nobody was happy to need us, and as a paralegal, I had the most direct contact with clients. Clients trusted us, and I was able to materially. Being there emotionally for a client’s worst day is important to work I am proud to have done but having the ability to help through my technical skills was truly empowering.
I am humbled to make my mom proud and wish my dad could see me. I have loved being a paralegal, but I can’t wait to be an attorney to further bring justice to underserved and underrepresented communities of color. I am a first-generation college graduate and will eventually be a first-generation attorney. The opportunity is not something I take lightly. I work daily to make my family and community proud. With gratitude for my past and excitement for my future, I am ready to do the work.