Virtual Ceremony Honors Students Who Excelled in Public Interest

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HOPE Public Interest Recognition Ceremony artwork

The HOPE Public Interest Resource Center hosted its annual Public Interest Recognition Ceremony on April 15th, gathering virtually with students, faculty, alumni, family and friends to recognize outstanding students who excelled in public service during the 2020-2021 academic year.

Marni Lennon, assistant dean for public interest and pro bono and director of HOPE, welcomed the attendees and shared her appreciation for the dedication of Miami Law students during another challenging year when we have faced a continuing pandemic and increased racial injustice. She was joined in the presentation by HOPE colleagues Sharon Booth and Sara Baez.

After a welcome from Dean Anthony Varona, Vice Dean Drew Dawson recognized the winners of the HOPE Pro Bono and Community Service Challenge Awards, which go to a student in each class who completes the most pro bono and community service hours, respectively.

The recipients of the HOPE Pro Bono Awards were 3L Nicole Pierluisi (Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office), 2L Sara Thompson (Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office) and 1L Myles Crandall (Disability Independence Group, Fines & Fees Justice Center, Lawyers for Children America, and UCLA Criminal Justice Project).

“I came to law school deeply disturbed by injustice in our society,” said Crandall. “This year, I have been fortunate to learn from experienced and inspiring lawyers. I worked on projects including restoring voting rights for returning citizens, appealing a discriminatory eviction, and gathering government documents for transparency about COVID-19 cases in prisons. I hope that my labor contributed to community-led movements for greater access to opportunity, representation, and justice.”

The recipients of the HOPE Community Service Awards were 3L Kristen Calzadilla (Miami-Dade County School Board), 2L Tyler Litwak (Miami Animal Rescue), and 1L Stevi Leavitt (Community Engagement, Environmental Justice & Health [CEEJH] and Feline TNR Program).

“During the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many parts of the world were on lockdown, I happened to come across a social media post from a local animal hospital detailing how the hospital was in desperate need of foster parents,” noted Litwak. “I realized I could make an immediate impact—while still remaining in the safety of my own home—by taking in young animals who needed homes until the animal hospital could arrange for their adoption.”

In addition to acknowledging all students who met the challenges this year, the following groups were also recognized: Miami Public Interest Scholars, HOPE and SPIF Summer Fellows, the Public Interest Leadership Board, Alternative Break and Pro Bono Project Participants, and graduating Miami Law clinic students.

The event culminated with the recognition of 3Ls Gita Howard and David Stuzin as winners of the Exemplary Service Award for their work with the Human Rights Clinic and 3L Dr. Timothy Loftus as winner of the Innovative Service Award for his work with the Center for Ethics and Public Service’s Heath Disparities Project.

Stuzin shared that “working with the Human Rights Clinic to influence homelessness and housing policy at the local, federal, and international level has been the most meaningful part of my law school experience. The work I did helped make people experiencing homelessness, who governments try to make invisible through criminalization policies, more visible to policymakers and private citizens.”

With respect to his project, Loftus noted that “community leaders expressed alarm about the impact of COVID-19 on their communities' physical and mental health early in the pandemic. We are uniquely leveraging our law and medical schools' resources, using specific data to compel change and improve healthcare access. Significant work lies ahead, but community members provide ample motivation to drive the project forward. I am grateful to have been a part of it.”

Read more about social justice and public interest at Miami Law