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Welcome New Fall 2011 Students

August 15, 2011

“It’s exciting – I’m ready to get started,” said Justin VandenAkker, no doubt expressing the thoughts of many in TJSL’s newest class of incoming students, who attended orientation on Saturday, August 13.

The sparkling new campus created a buzz among the new students, many of whom were seeing the ultra-modern building for the first time.

“It’s awesome,” said Natalia Bazzola of being on campus for her first day of law school. “It gives you goose bumps.”

“Welcome to the most technologically advanced law school building in the U.S.,” said Associate Dean for Student Affairs Beth Kransberger. 

By way of showing off that technology, the large class was seated in two separate classrooms, but united by technology – a virtual video and audio feed that united them into one group.

“On the first day some law schools say, look at the people on your right and on your left – one of them won’t be here in the spring,” Dean Kransberger told the class. “Here at TJSL we say, look to your right and left and you’ll see that you have extraordinary new colleagues. You are an interesting and varied group.” (See Facts & Figures on the 2011 Incoming Class)

According to Dean Kransberger, there are close to 350 new students, a diverse group, of which almost half are people of color. They come from 43 states and were born in 23 different countries. 

Among the new students there are as many stories about how and why they came to TJSL as there are students.

Justin VandenAkker is a 32-year-old married father of two, who ran a successful automobile brokerage in Salt Lake City before he decided to do what he has “wanted to do forever” – become a lawyer. He came to TJSL because of his brother-in-law, Jason Wilkinson, who graduated this spring. “It’s now or never,” VandenAkker said.

“It feels good to be back here for good,” Jay B. Campbell told us. He’s a graduate of the recent CLEO (Council for Legal Education Opportunity) Summer Institute held at TJSL this year. “This is the real thing,” he added.  CLEO is about bringing more diversity into the legal profession, and you can see it in the faces of our new students.

“It’s great to see so much diversity,” said San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, a 1976 TJSL graduate, who appeared at orientation to share her experiences with the new class. “The more diversity, the more you open yourself to new ideas.”

Dumanis began her legal career as a clerk-typist in the D.A.’s office while attending law school. She passed the bar on her first try, and became a prosecutor, a juvenile court referee, a Superior Court judge and, finally, the first woman ever elected as San Diego’s District Attorney. She’s now running for mayor of San Diego.

”The sky is the limit,” Dumanis told the new students. “When I first entered law school, I didn’t know what a tort was. I thought it was a dessert. There really is no limit to what you can do with a law degree. But you do have to study – take each day and be a sponge.”

“Law school is a truly transformative experience,” TJSL Dean Rudy Hasl said as he welcomed the new students. “You will become a different person in the next three to three-and-a-half years.”

The Dean also told them there are two main success factors for law students:  One is the “ability to avoid distractions. The second is a willingness to commit up front to engaging in this process. We will provide you with the knowledge and skills to help you succeed in this profession. We are here to help you succeed.”

“The quality of the teaching at Thomas Jefferson is exceptional,” said District Attorney Dumanis. “You are on the same plane with anyone at any law school,” she said.

Classes for the fall semester begin on Thursday, August 18.

“This is really happening – it’s so exciting,” said Rachel Napier, who can’t wait to get started so that she can practice law “for the next 50 years.”