Feature Stories 2018: Alicia Blanchard: 2018 UMass Law Commencement Speaker

Alicia Blanchard - student speaker - UMass Law - Commencement 2018
Feature Stories 2018: Alicia Blanchard: 2018 UMass Law Commencement Speaker
Alicia Blanchard: 2018 UMass Law Commencement Speaker

Alicia Blanchard, JD candidate '18, plans to work in special education reform.

Changing perceptions of law

I chose to study law because I saw how often it’s associated with the worst moments in people’s lives. Because of that, people fear the law and harbor distrust for the profession. I wanted to show people that the law is not something to fear, but is something to embrace.

The law is in the background of almost all the best moments of our lives. It’s present in every adoption, birth, and marriage. It’s there when a house becomes a home, and it’s there in every oath taken by a new U.S. citizen.

I wanted to serve others, and when I witnessed all the good and positive change the law can create, I realized I wanted to be a lawyer.

Much of my life before law school was devoted to working with populations that didn’t necessarily have a voice in society. Working with the elderly, persons with disabilities, and children, I witnessed injustices that upset me. I wanted to stand up for these populations, and UMass Law’s mission fit.

UMass Law’s focus on service and giving back to the community appealed to me when I was looking at law schools. That, coupled with its size, made my decision easy.

Internship at Northeast Legal Aid

The summer after my first year of law school, I got to witness everything I had learned about landlord-tenant law in my first-year property class come alive. I worked with real clients in the Lawyer-for-a-Day Program out of Lawrence Housing Court.

I saw true superheroes in action as I watched dedicated attorneys advocate tirelessly to keep people housed and safe.

Research on CORI sealing

I wrote a comprehensive manual for a national nonprofit that explored the nuts and bolts of suing domestic violence abusers in tort. It was designed not only to teach young attorneys how to file a tort claim on behalf of a domestic violence survivor, but also to encourage more attorneys to take on these types of cases.

Additionally, I worked on a CORI sealing project. I worked alongside other students to help people in local communities know their rights regarding their criminal records.

I learned that a criminal record may not represent who a person is any longer. Further, it may bar people from getting adequate and safe housing and fruitful employment, or attach a stigma to their person.

A criminal record is a habitual punishment for crimes that were committed years ago. The work that we did on criminal record sealing was fruitful because it empowered people to change their lives, and it gave them hope for a better future.

Alicia Blanchard at annual ABA Conference at Rockefeller Center
Alicia Blanchard at the ABA Annual Conference Rockefeller Center with classmate Katelyn Golsby

Mental health awareness

When I began law school, I struggled with finding a work-life balance. I let the anxiety build without a release and watched many of my colleagues have similar experiences. Over the summer after my first year, I realized how unhealthy my stress level was, and I began researching what other schools were doing to promote wellness.

I used my position on the Student Bar Association (SBA) to create a platform for student wellness. It was this platform that drove Mary McBride, the former SBA president, and me to institute Wellness Week in the Fall of 2016.

Wellness Week is a week-long event where students can snuggle a service dog, get a free massage, watch a funny movie, attend meditation, or partake in some free snacks. The goal is to boost the morale of students as we head into finals. It was such a positive experience that we turned Wellness Week into a tradition.

In tandem with Wellness Week, it has been my mission to boost mental health awareness at UMass Law. It’s my goal that every student knows where they can find adequate resources if they ever need help.

Alicia Blanchard, Desiree Costa and Minnie Bhaumik tabling for Legal Association of Women
Legal Association of Women tabling with classmates Desiree Costa and Minnie Bhaumik

Future in child advocacy

My goal is to work in child advocacy, specifically special education reform.

UMass Law fostered my academic interests by allowing me to explore my areas of interest in education/disability law, domestic violence, and LGBTQ rights. The faculty and staff dedicated a lot of their time to help develop my own academic pursuits.

It was with this encouragement that I was able to write a law review note on LGB rights and get it published in the UMass Law Review.

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