Tuesday August 22, 2017

The Four Musketeers

By Mary McCarty

How one law school program has helped four students form a special bond with each other and their community.

They are The Four Musketeers of the University of Dayton School of Law; you rarely see one without the other.

They’re so inseparable it’s hard to believe they met only last year, as Summer Start students determined to finish their Juris Doctorate in two years – and to serve as pioneers in an innovative Dayton Law program designed to create a new generation of lawyer-leaders.

They are the inaugural class of the prestigious Leadership Honors Program -- and at first glance they appear to have little else in common.

Sayre Payne of Springboro is a former Army officer who served in Afghanistan and went on to a career as a financial adviser. Andre Tirado of Columbus earned a journalism degree and worked as a paralegal. Ann Charles Watts of Dayton is a former fundraising consultant for Habitat for Humanity. Alexandria Esposito of Sandusky is a recent graduate of The Ohio State University and a “die-hard Buckeye.”

“We have become an instant group of friends,” Esposito said. “We hold each other accountable. And if I am confused about something, they let me know whether I am on the right track.”

They range in age from early 20s to late 30s and they hail from diverse backgrounds. They may have very different views on many subjects, but all agree on one thing: They wouldn’t want to go through the elite program without each other.

Leadership Honors First Class“Having these three friends to have intellectual legal conversations has kept me grounded,” Tirado said. “It keeps my interest in law going. I commute every day from Columbus, so it’s nice having that feeling of place here in Dayton.”

And not just any place – but a place of honor as the first Leadership Honors Program class.

“We loved it that we were the inaugural class – how neat it was to be part of something that was just beginning,” Watts said. “And what was so appealing was that it wasn’t just an honors program, but it was focused on leadership and public life. We see ourselves as leaders in public life – not just academically inclined, but engaged in the wider community.”

Tirado, who has two young sons, chose the intensive two-year program at Dayton Law over four years of night school in Columbus. He wanted as little disruption in his family life as possible. Payne and Watts, who each have three children, said they couldn’t have made the financial sacrifice of law school without the full-tuition scholarship.

But it was the idealistic part of the program that attracted them even more than the practical advantages.

“We want to do things for the betterment of our community, not just for the esquire after our names,” Tirado said.

Leadership Honors Program Director Susan Wawrose, a professor of lawyering skills, said the inaugural class exemplifies the spirit of the Leadership Honors Program.

“The program was designed for high-achieving students who demonstrate potential for leadership in community, and who have diverse backgrounds and interests,” Wawrose said. “These students have not only excelled academically, since arriving at UDSL they have embraced a commitment to our law school community. You see it in the way they support each other as well as in their involvement with the law school and interactions with fellow students.”

Leadership Honors Class with Professor WawroseThe curriculum is distinctive, with students participating in a specially-designed Graduated Leadership Sequence. During the first year, students take part in the Honors Roundtable Series, regular small group discussions with leaders in business, government and the legal community. In the second year, students attend a Leadership for Lawyers Seminar at UD’s Center for Leadership. During the final year, students collaborate on a Leadership Legacy project designed to help transform a community institution.

Each student is matched with an alumni mentor with shared interests. “Our alums are essential to the program’s success,” Wawrose said. “They serve as nominators, recommending students to apply to the program. And, as mentors, they have shown their commitment to the personal and professional development of our students. Their expressions of true affection for the law school and continuing support for its mission are impressive and, quite frankly, inspiring.”

The Honors Roundtable Series, chaired by former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, brings local, state, and nationally-recognized speakers for candid talks about their work and the arc of their careers. Speakers have included Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig; Dayton Law alumnus and Executive Director of the National Medical Association, Martin Hamlette; and Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith French.

“Gov. Taft has been exceptionally generous and gracious,” Wawrose said. “In addition to helping develop a great roster of speakers, he takes the time to talk with each student on a personal level. I hear him asking about their background and goals, and it’s so obvious that his questions come from a place of sincere interest.”

So much for “The Paper Chase.”

"Law schools have a reputation for a competitive environment, where people aren’t helpful, but I haven’t found that at all,” Payne said. “People do want us to succeed. I plan to pay it forward by being a mentor in the future, because people have been so helpful here.”

And, of course, there are The Four Musketeers, laughing, talking, and carrying on as if they have known each other since grade school.

“Life is full of the slog and the race,” Watts said. “To be able to stop for two years to think and talk and to debate – that’s a gift beyond measure.”

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