Law Students of the Year: Yvette Pappoe, University of Maryland

Although born in Ghana, Yvette Pappoe’s story is truly American.

Pappoe’s middle-class parents moved to the U.S. in 2001, seeking for their children the education and opportunities they were never able to attain for themselves in their native Ghana. She was still a child at the time.

As Pappoe’s accomplishments show, her parents achieved their goal. Yvette has earned superlative grades at both the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where she did her undergraduate work in sociology, and at University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, where she has served as:

  •  Articles editor of the “University of Maryland Law Journal of Race, Religion, Gender and Class” 
  •  A Rose Zetzer Fellow in the school’s Women, Leadership and Equality Program
  •  A student attorney in two of the law school’s legal theory and practice courses — The School-to-Prison Pipeline and Criminal Law 
  • A judicial intern for The Honorable Douglas R. M. Nazarian of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals
  • President of the Black Law Students Association, working with the law school’s administration after the death of Freddie Gray; organizing a march to city hall for justice in the Freddie Gray case; and planning a police-community relations symposium at the law school.

This academic and professional success is especially impressive in light of the financial challenges she has faced. Pappoe is a DREAMer — an unauthorized immigrant who qualified for the former Obama administration’s deferred action initiative that offered her and an estimated 1.8 million other young people who had come to the U.S. illegally as children, a two-year, renewable reprieve from deportation.

Although allowed to remain in the U.S., Pappoe’s status as a DREAMer meant that after she graduated from high school she was not eligible for federally- or state-funded scholarships or grants, a circumstance that forced her to juggle multiple jobs while taking classes full-time, borrow money from family members and search for scholarships that do not require U.S. citizenship

As an undergraduate, for instance, she was classified as an international student — a decision which meant that even though she and her family had lived in Maryland for more than a decade, Pappoe was forced to pay twice as much as in tuition as in-state residents. The 2012 Maryland DREAM Act gave her in-state status, but she remained ineligible for federal aid, a condition that made her decision to pursue a legal education extremely difficult, particularly since Maryland Carey Law insists that first-year students focus solely on their academic work, without even a part-time job to distract them from their studies.

Pappoe persevered, however, and received three scholarships.

She also built an impressive record of community service. She’s a four-year member of the Maryland Scholars Speakers Bureau, which deploys representatives to inspire middle and high school students to stay in school and pursue higher education; the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Chesapeake; Civic Works, a nonprofit strengthening Baltimore communities; and the House of Worship, where she is a Kingdom Kids Ministry teacher for fifth and sixth graders.

“In light of all the challenges I’ve face, through perseverance, persistence, and the benevolence of my family members, I will graduate law school in May 2017 employed and debt- free,” she said. “Today, I wake up every morning realizing that I am an embodiment of the dream my parents envisioned several years ago.”

Pappoe is one of 25 future lawyers honored in the National Jurist’s 2017 “Law Student of the Year” feature. Find more honorees here

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