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East High School graduate and Drake University Law School student Dariann Garrison-Nickerson talks to Central Academy students about her experience.

DMPS high school students were invited to a unique symposium to hear from Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Susan Christensen, District Court judges, attorneys in public and private practice, and Drake law school students about their experiences with the justice system. The day-long event, called Color of Justice, was designed to encourage historically underrepresented students to consider law as a field of study.

Central Academy director Dr. Jessica Gogerty, Prep Academy advisor Diane Fox, and social science instructor Shawn Voshell collaborated with the National Association of Women Judges, Drake Law School, and the Iowa Bar Association to engage Central Academy students from all five DMPS high schools.

“I loved the Color of Justice,” said Roosevelt High School student Dairen Castro. “My overall takeaway is that as a woman, person of color, and first generation college student, it is still possible for me to succeed in law. Seeing people who looked like me and have the same stories as me in the law field made me less scared of being able to acquire the measures to go through it.”

The list of distinguished speakers the students heard from would make anyone’s list of Who’s Who in Central Iowa. In addition to Chief Justice Christensen, a panel of experts shared their experiences as members of the legal community, including:

  • Iowa District Court Judge Celene Gogerty
  • District Associate Judges Romonda Belcher, Odell McGhee and Kimberly Ayotte
  • Iowa Assistant Appellate Defender Ashley Stewart
  • Iowa Attorney General’s office Statewide Restitution Coordinator Boumedien Kasha
  • Attorneys Anjela Shutts, Vicki Long Hill, Felicia Bertin Rocha
  • Athene Sr. Vice President Angela Williams Jackson
  • Drake University Law School Dean Jerry Anderson

The variety of speakers expanded the way students thought about the opportunities to make a difference in Iowa’s courts.

“I learned that there are way more law-related fields than what I thought,” said Roosevelt student Nevaeh Frazier.

The students met with current Drake University law school students and learned about their histories, why they chose law, and what they would do differently if they were back in high school now.

Dariann Garrison-Nickerson, a third-year law student and graduate of East High School went to college to play basketball and major in Biology, but it was a law-related class she took that piqued her interest and started her on the path to pursuing a law degree after graduation. Her advice to the high school students was to use the free time they have now to get involved and explore their own interests.

“You’ll never have this opportunity again in your life,” Garrison-Nickerson said. “Anything you’re semi-interested in, do it.”

Students said they were surprised by the background stories of some Drake students who struggled or pursued other career options before choosing to commit to law school.

“I did not want anything to do with law because I thought it was extremely complicated,” said Lincoln High School student Anne Simon. “But now I am considering it to be a possibility.”

Drake Law Director of Clinics and Experiential Learning Suzan Pritchett said professors expect a lot of their students, and when it comes to admissions, the university is looking for diversity in their student body.

“We’re interested in the depth of intellectual exchange,” she said, noting the number of scholarships offered in areas of interest, demographic and academic backgrounds.

District Court Judge Gogerty, who helped organize the event, encouraged students to find what interests them and then think about how it could apply to a law career.

“Follow a path that gives you passion,” she said. “Find a (college) major that ignites your passion.”

That idea made an impression on Lincoln student Audrey Felix.

“One thing I may do differently is try and find my “dream” so I can work towards reaching my goals.”

View Photos of Students Attending ‘Color of Justice’ at Drake University.

The Color of Justice Program

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