By Leslie A. Gordon and Susan Gluss
Adrian Kinsella ’15 secured an elusive Visa for a courageous Afghan military translator and advocated on behalf of military veterans. Sean Darling-Hammond ’14 spent years supporting underserved students, a crusade that continues today. A mix of courage and commitment vaulted them to the top of Berkeley Law’s public interest advocates.
In recognition, the two will receive the 2014 Eleanor Swift Award for Public Service. Named for Professor Swift—a primary architect of the law school’s public interest programs—the award is presented annually to one or more students, staff, or faculty.
Kinsella and Darling-Hammond will receive their awards on May 9 as part of the Public Interest and Pro Bono Graduation ceremony, which celebrates students who have demonstrated a commitment to public service.
“Berkeley Law students continue to raise the bar on public interest achievement, so these awards are competitive and represent an incredible honor when bestowed,” said Dimple Abichandani, executive director of the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice. The center hosts the special ceremony, alongside the Career Development Office and faculty leaders of the Student-Initiated Legal Services Projects (SLPS).
About 300 people are expected to attend this year’s public service graduation. Honorees include students who have completed the Pro Bono Pledge: 50 or more hours of pro bono work and two summers of public interest work or SLPS leadership.
An inspiration for others
Swift award winner Adrian Kinsella committed countless hours to social justice efforts, while juggling both a challenging second-year workload and active duty service in the Marine Corps. As a captain deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, Kinsella and his platoon worked closely with an Afghan translator, Mohammad, who advised them on local customs and norms and joined them on hazardous patrols. But because Mohammad assisted the U.S. military, retaliation was swift: insurgents tortured and killed his father, and his brother was kidnapped. Mohammad rescued his brother and soon applied for a Visa to escape danger. His application to the U.S. languished for years.
Kinsella marshaled friends and family to pressure Congress and the State Department to fulfill its commitment to Mohammad, a loyal ally. As a result of Kinsella’s efforts, Mohammad arrived in the U.S. this past January where more than 25 law students welcomed him at the airport.
As president of the Boalt Association of Military Veterans, Kinsella also worked with university leadership to ensure that Berkeley Law veterans received their benefits on time—a first. He also helped launch a legal aid clinic to support Bay Area vets. Somehow, Kinsella also found time to serve as a Big Brother to a 13-year-old Oakland boy. Not surprisingly, he has earned a reputation for selflessness and integrity, according to fellow student Bevan Dowd ’15.
“I don’t feel I deserve an award for doing what I’d normally do. It’s a little awkward,” said Kinsella, who will serve as a Judge Advocate for the Marines after graduation. “But I’ve come to terms with it. I hope my receiving the award will inspire others.”
A passion for justice
The Swift award committee commended Darling-Hammond for his advocacy and policy work on race and social justice issues and his extraordinary mentorship of fellow students. As California Law Review’s diversity editor, Darling-Hammond ’14 led trainings on implicit bias for students involved in all 12 Berkeley Law journals. He learned firsthand from his own parents’ interracial marriage and the social stigma they suffered.
As a director and founder of the Student Commission on Excellence in Legal Education, Darling-Hammond worked to remove barriers to success faced by Berkeley Law students from disadvantaged backgrounds. He also served as co-president of the Restorative Justice Committee and as director of the Berkeley High Restorative Justice Student Court, through which he mentored and defended students on the verge of suspension or expulsion.
Fellow student Janine Panchok-Berry ’14 described Darling-Hammond as an “inspiring, eloquent, and indefatigable advocate for social justice.”
Receiving the award is “huge validation of the work we have been doing to ensure that students from all backgrounds can thrive here,” said Darling-Hammond, who will work for a Maryland magistrate judge after graduation. His career goal is to become a policy advocate and law professor.
Like Kinsella, Darling-Hammond hopes the Swift award will inspire more students to do public interest work. “We have incredible power as aspiring lawyers,” he said. “So long as there is passion for justice in your heart and breath in your lungs, your power to create change is boundless.”
Public interest work is central to Berkeley Law’s mission, Abichandani emphasized. “The Pro Bono graduation ceremony is our community’s celebration of significant ways in which law students have advanced justice while they are here, and the incredible work we know they’ll do when they leave.”
Other notable awards to be given out at the ceremony include the Francine Diaz Memorial Award, for a woman of color whose work at Boalt and career path reflect a strong commitment to social justice; and the Kathi Pugh award, for outstanding attorney volunteers who mentor the school’s SLPS leadership.