Students attend ACS National Convention, network in Washington D.C.


(L-R): Bianca Lopez, Julie McHaffie, and Ana Leonart. Photo courtesy Bianca Lopez.

(L-R): Bianca Lopez, Julie McHaffie, and Ana Leonart in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy Bianca Lopez.

By Bianca Lopez

This June, three Stetson students – myself included – attended the American Constitution Society National Convention. ACS held this year’s event in the nation’s capital, Washington D.C., allowing us to discuss political events surrounded by the “room(s) where it happens.” (Pardon the Hamilton reference.)

Students Julie McHaffie, Ana Lleonart and I received scholarships from the ACS national organization to travel to and participate in the convention. McHaffie will serve as the Stetson ACS chapter’s secretary this coming fall, Lleonart will serve as outreach chair, and I will serve as president.

The convention featured notable speakers such as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and former United States Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. Justice Sotomayor walked through the audience, graciously shaking hands and sharing hugs. She spoke about the importance of representation – as she is the only woman of color on the Supreme Court, and about the plight of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Yates, as keynote speaker for the first night of the convention, kicked off a popular theme of the weekend: legal issues within the current administration.

“Part of the American Constitution Society’s mission is to raise awareness within our nation about important issues that risk being silenced,” Lleonart said. “ACS provides its members with a platform to start those necessary conversations that will ultimately aid in creating the positive change our country needs. I am a part of ACS because I want to contribute to that conversation, in an effort to create the positive change our country calls for.”

Students experienced valuable networking opportunities, paired for coffee meetings by ACS with professional members with experience in their fields of interest. ACS also offered group dinners and speed networking where students could meet attorneys and judges.

“These conventions allow you to connect with hundreds of legal minds throughout the United States,” McHaffie said. “As a law student, it is beneficial to meet students from different law schools and a diverse group of legal professionals. It is impossible to go to one of these conventions and not come away with a new perspective on a legal issue or profession.”

Student attendees came from all around the country – from Harvard to Emory to Berkeley. Some students had just finished their first year of law school, while others balanced the convention festivities with studying for their impending bar exams.

The convention offered many panels throughout the weekend, including the topics of voting rights, immigration, big tech, religious-freedom, and the #metoo movement. To close out the event, attendees acted as the live studio audience for a taping of the Versus Trump podcast and then heard an empowering speech from Karla Perez, a DACA Dreamer who has just graduated from law school.

“After a challenging and demanding first year of law school, attending the ACS national convention reaffirmed my decision to become a lawyer,” McHaffie said. “I realized the impact my legal education can have on the world around me and that I have an ability to make a difference.”