Just a year after graduating from UMass Law, Jesse Purvis, JD ’19 has landed his dream job as director of policy for District One Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards. Purvis will oversee all ordinances, motions, hearings, resolutions, and other civic and legal operations underway in Charlestown, East Boston, and the North End.
While Boston is a long way from New South Wales, Australia, where Purvis was born, and the coast of southern California where he was raised, his current position suits him perfectly.
“Working in public policy for an elected representative in the legislative process puts me at this beautiful nexus between problems and solutions,” said Purvis. “It’s where real change happens.”
Destined for a career in public service
Purvis left Australia when he was three years old and moved to California, where he lived in Los Angeles and San Diego. After attending college in Santa Barbara, he came to the East Coast to attend Lesley University in Cambridge. Purvis liked how the four seasons changed in New England and decided to stay.
He became a middle school math and science teacher and was program director for Cambridge Youth Services. Although he loved teaching, a desire to work in public interest law beckoned. Purvis enrolled at UMass Law and was awarded a Public Interest Law Fellowship (PILF), a highly competitive program that trains students for careers in public service. The program provides specialized counseling, frequent exposure to public interest lawyers and policy makers, and numerous opportunities for "hands on" experience in public interest law internships.
“The PILF program is what drew me in at first,” said Purvis, “and I liked the close-knit campus and personal touches. Everyone was very accessible and welcoming. The faculty take a personal interest in you. Law school can be a very stressful and difficult time and the faculty really helped me make the best of it.”
While attending UMass Law, Purvis founded the National Lawyers Guild-UMass Law chapter and planned a week of programming around social justice issues.
“I was passionate that my law school education be more than just about grades and classes. I wanted it to be about creating a community and that meant putting on programs and speaking events based on social justice and environmental issues in which I was interested. Law school can be a conservative place, even in liberal Massachusetts, and it was important to have an outlet for those who wanted to make progressive change.”
Purvis’ efforts led to his receiving the Thurgood Marshall Award for Social Justice at graduation in honor of the former U.S. Supreme Court Justice.
Purvis was also involved in the environmental law society and interned while in law school at the Massachusetts State House and the Department of Public Utilities, working on environmental justice issues that impact underserved communities.
UMass Law faculty made an impact
Purvis was profoundly inspired by his professors at UMass Law. “My constitutional law professor Dwight Duncan was an amazing teacher and, more importantly, a compassionate listener. His door was always open and, while we didn’t agree on a great many issues, he was always happy to talk about whatever was on my mind.”
He was also greatly influenced by his contracts law professor Jeremiah Ho. “He was one of the most amazing teachers I had while in law school. I knew I was never going to pursue contract law, but Professor Ho taught me that law school is more than just the sum of your classes. His academic work and studies on gender, sexuality, and identity in the context of human and civil rights law opened my eyes to what the modern law could be about. He helped me understand that the law is about more than just statutes, regulations, and codes. It’s a representation of values, an expression of principles.”
The father of a two-year-old daughter, Ida Jean, Purvis looks forward to spending more time with his toddler and working with Councilwoman Edwards on charter reform, environmental justice, and housing equity.
“Right now, I am happy to have a meaningful job and a wonderful family and, for me, that is enough,” Purvis said.