2019 Scholarship Winners

Denver Trial Lawyers ® is proud to announce the winners of our undergraduate and law school scholarship contests: Marcus Lantier and Derick Fong

Marcus Lantier's "Great Citizen" Essay

Daily detentions, over twenty-one suspensions, alternative school, and poor peer influences is what perfectly described my middle school experience. Coming from a divorced family household at a young age, becoming my own man was an extremely challenging task without my father in the picture. My mother worked as much overtime as she could to support me and my sister on her own with a meager Walmart salary. A beautiful, hard working woman is an understatement when it comes to describing my mother, but with her always at work, I had no role models that could pour into me and show me what it really meant to be a man and a good person. This all changed the day I was introduced to school teacher Germaine Johnson.

With the raging emotions of a young teenage boy that never really understood what broke apart his family, but knew enough to have a large muster of anger built up from the uncontrollable situations; sports were my outlet. I made the middle school soccer team, and had a successful year as a main component in the teams success. Following the soccer season, the coach asked me to play for his lacrosse team. This coach was none other than Germaine Johnson. I had never played lacrosse before, but this man took hours out of his day to teach me the fundamentals of the game because he saw something in me when no one else did. He poured into me through athletics, while educating me on what life is really about, and how to handle the trials that come with it. I was thirteen around this time and had finally discovered my first male role model. Nevertheless, I still managed to ruin a good thing.

Within my middle school atmosphere, fighting, gambling, and drugs were all apart of the everyday norms. I fell right into the middle of all that by being apart of the worst clique at school. Believing it was cool to systematically set myself up for failure by doing a multitude of negative behaviors caught up to me quickly. It was a week before my first ever lacrosse season would begin. I was eager to show off the multitude of skills I had developed with hours of work supplied by Coach Johnson. Days leading up before the first game, I was involved in a physical altercation with another student over ignorant insults that really dug into my young, already fragile ego. This event led to my overall expulsion from the lacrosse team. This hit me like a brick wall emotionally as I let down the only man who gave me the time of day. Hours of Coach Johnsons’ own time put seemingly to waste because I could not just let go of simple slurs thrown at me by a peer. For the remaining year after this event, I could not muster the strength to even look my coach in the eyes. A spiraling effect occurred, and my behavior continued a declining trend.

Soon enough alternative school was in my immediate future. The school's principal, and vice principal deemed it necessary for my presence to be positioned at another institution where students of my behavior were allocated. Alternative school students were notorious for dropping out, and seeing jail time in the near future. Nothing good was in my line of sites, until Coach Johnson heard of these endeavors. Germaine pleaded a case that revolved around my continued presence at my current middle school. Deeming that I was in fact a great student and young adolescence, just in need of direction. A week long debate for my case occurred while I was sidelined by out of school suspension. The verdict of my trial was informed to me by Germaine himself, letting me know I would be given one more chance to prove I can make a change in my debilitating behavior. An immediate wave of gratitude burst through me. A man I once let down, having no confidence to even look at, came once again to my aid. This man gave me the realization that I was worth something. That I had the ability to change my life around. In this realization, I managed to successfully make it to college as a first generation student in my family, as well as a men’s division two lacrosse athlete.

You do not need to give millions of dollars to charity, have a nobel peace prize, or be in any position of power to be an outstanding citizen. An outstanding citizen is someone who provides to their fellow American community in the best way they know how. Germaine Johnson knew how to give back to the community around him by putting trust in the youth around him, and giving support to those who had no support to begin with. I have learned that positively influencing not only youth, but all those around me is my life commandment on how to be an outstanding citizen. While currently enrolled in college, I give back by tutoring underprivileged youths in academics, personal training cancer fatigue patients, teaching elementary school children sports, and pursuing the great occupation of occupational therapy to continue giving back because of the few who gave to me.

Derick Fong's "Checks and Balances" Essay

There are few unique moments in my life that I can pinpoint as being crucial in making the person I am today. A jumble of innate traits, socialized characteristics, and cultural pulls all blend together into a black box of personality that I cannot hope to disentangle. But for all the confusion, I can point decisively to one event that would dramatically shape how I viewed the world and my place in it. That event was a political theory course during the spring semester of my freshman year, in which I was introduced to A Theory of Justice, a book by political philosopher John Rawls. In it, he laid out a thorough and comprehensive framework for creating a just society. What I found more personally significant, however, was his doctrine of reflective equilibrium.

At its most straightforward, reflective equilibrium is a state of coherence among a set of ethical principles arrived at through logical deliberation. In practice, this involves considering all of our moral judgments, determining whether they are compatible with each other, and changing those that are not. To deliberate sufficiently and achieve equilibrium, Rawls wrote, is to arrive at a basic sense of justice. While he did not necessarily envision this equilibrium expanding beyond the scope of beliefs into that of actions, I have found it to be an invaluable guide to practical ethics.

This cursory introduction to Rawls pushed me both to delve further into his ideas and to re-examine my own. I encountered the sobering realization that I had no systematic method of evaluating whether my actions lined up with my beliefs. I was just as ignorant as to whether my beliefs lined up with each other. I felt instinctively that something was wrong. So I started on the long trek toward uncovering my fundamental moral intuitions, organizing a consistent value set from those intuitions, and investigating whether my actions aligned with that value set.

Although that process began with concepts of political theory and Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, it expanded quickly. I soon identified the root of that inquiry as the discipline of moral philosophy. That revelation prompted me to add a philosophy major during my sophomore year and begin wading through the mountains of available literature. Through my professors – both inside and outside the classroom – I learned about an array of moral philosophers, from those I found rather unconvincing, like Baruch Spinoza and Immanuel Kant, to those I found very convincing, like Plato and Jeremy Bentham. These philosophers dug deeply into the basis for moral intuitions and all the downstream consequences flowing from them. Their writings pressed me to put my own views under the microscope, discard those previously held that did not withstand scrutiny, and accept those newly discovered that were compelling. I learned to distinguish a feeling of visceral disgust with an actual moral judgment, to faithfully relate ethical principles with actualities in the world, and to muster the discipline to modify my behavior when morality demanded it. I found philosophy, funnily enough, to be eminently practical in my everyday life.

As this development continues to the present day, I feel almost overwhelmed as my opinions and actions – from how I think of others to what I eat to how I judge right from wrong – change at a rapid pace and upend the way I approach living a good life. Yet out of all that turmoil, I consider the single most critical change to be that regarding my career. One of the conclusions stemming from my attempts at reflective equilibrium is a belief in the obligation to pursue a profession that helps to bring about justice into the world, however possible. While I have wanted to become a lawyer for as long as I can remember wanting to become something, the legal career I actually want to achieve has crystalized far more clearly during this ongoing process. I now know definitively that I want to complete a legal education, become a lawyer, work for a financial regulatory agency, and contribute my small part to a just society.

If I had an inclination for science, perhaps I would strive toward innovation in sustainable food sourcing. If I had an inclination for engineering, perhaps I would strive toward developing new efficiencies in energy generation. But I have neither. So with my inclination for the humanities, perhaps I can strive toward legally righting some wrongs.