My name is Nicole Alanko and I am a 1L from Atlanta, Georgia and Staunton, Virginia. I attended The George Washington University with a major in International Affairs and a minor in Spanish. Throughout my entire undergraduate career, I’ve focused on advocating for equal access to education- from fundraising in honor of Malala to writing my thesis on education for Syrian refugees. Education is the centerpiece to gender equality and equal opportunity, and I hope that my career in law and public service will be a reflection of these higher goals.
At some point in every student’s legal career, they come across a moment that reminds them why they started. My moment came very early in my time at William & Mary.
I went to high school in Staunton, Virginia, a small town west of Charlottesville. I attended the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) program at the Shenandoah Valley Governor’s School, a half-day program for my junior and senior years where I could take advanced classes that my local high school could not offer. Though I had no intention of entering the STEM fields, this training early on taught me how to think through a problem logically and how to research (two skills critical to the legal profession). This background set me up for success, both in undergrad and now at William and Mary. I always thought that the best way to thank my teachers was to use the skills they gave me to serve others.
Recently, a budget amendment was introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates that would substantially decrease the funding to half-day Governor’s Schools across the state like mine. The amendment favors the four full-day programs across the state by giving them 30% more funding per student, and leaving the fifteen half-day programs to divide up the remaining funds. When I heard about this amendment, I wanted to do something. I spoke with the director of my school and asked how I could help. She was encouraging parents, students, and alumni to write to our local delegates, and had intentions to travel to Richmond to lobby our delegates. I sprang into action. With the help of my Legal Writing professor, I wrote an op-ed that appeared in the local paper, explaining the policy and its effect on our community. I also had the opportunity to visit with our delegates in Richmond to talk with them about the effects of this amendment on our community, as well as the state as a whole. The amendment we opposed was defeated! We didn’t get the exact outcome we wanted, but our lobbying efforts succeeded in defeating the amendment.
Though I haven’t been here long, what I have already learned at William & Mary profoundly influenced how I approached advocating for my school. I wasn’t able to just look at the text of the amendment, but to dig deeper to its wider policy implications. I have learned how to write persuasively: organizing my piece so that even the readers who are in greatest opposition can see my side by the end. In just a little over one semester, I have already seen the profound impact that my legal education has had on my ability to be a better advocate and to stand up for causes near to my heart. Over the course of the next two years, I can’t wait to see how far my education can take me.