Law School Student of the Year: Sather Gowdy, Gonzaga

Gonzaga University School of Law is home to many movers and shakers, but rarely do our students actually start a movement. Such is the case for Sather Gowdy. His non-profit, Heal Spokane, is a grassroots organization that promotes acts of kindess and goodwill to others in the Spokane community. It was officially incorporated into a 501(c)3 in 2018. In November, Spokane + Couer D’Alene Living magazine recognized Gowdy as one of the “20 Under 40 Young Professionals” who are doing amazing things in their careers and in our community.

Gowdy grew up in north Spokane, Wash., the son of a Whitworth University English professor and a high-school counselor. With his sights set on becoming a public defender, Gowdy applied to law school. During his second year, however, Gowdy’s life changed forever with a string of tragic and unfortunate events. During the typical grind of 2L classes, two of Gowdy’s close friends died within weeks of each other. He suffered a “messy breakup,” and an inattentive driver totaled his car and tweaked his spine. The usually upbeat Gowdy plunged into a deep depression. “I’d wake up and just feel bitter, you know? And I’ve always been taught that you don’t want to be that person,” he said in a local newspaper interview. “You don’t want to be the person who’s always complaining about such, or treating the world like it’s against you.”

One day, Gowdy returned home from class and an elderly neighbor yelled from across the street, “Could you help me?” Her trunk was full of groceries and Gowdy helped her get them inside. He found out she was originally from Germany and the two talked about World War II—especially Winston Churchill, Gowdy’s hero—and they said their goodbyes. “As I walked home, I realized my heart felt lighter for the first time in weeks,” he said in an interview. “I wondered if I could turn all the negative energy in my life into positive energy.”

He made a vow: commit one act of kindness every day for someone in his community. Chores, yardwork, picking up trash, donating to the food bank. He understood the transformative power of helping another person and he didn’t want to stop—even if the help fell outside the traditional law student canon of public service opportunities. “You sometimes don’t get to choose how you’re needed,” he said.

After living his vow for a few weeks, Gowdy started a Facebook group named Heal Spokane. Through the group, he challenged others to commit their own acts of kindness and service. The hashtag #HealSpokane spawned alongside a logo featuring Sather’s trademark afro with a heart-shaped afro pick. He didn’t expect any of this to catch on in a big way, but as of December 2018, his Facebook group has 678 active members.

In January 2018, the principal at Gowdy’s former high school invited him to deliver an inspirational speech to the student body on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The students responded with their own wave of kindness around Spokane. Suddenly, Gowdy was the head of a movement. After interviews in local media, more people enthusiastically joined in.

Through all of this, Gowdy hasn’t forgotten his law school work and his aim to become a public defender. “Not only is he a fine individual, he’s a really great student,” said Gonzaga Law professor Ann Murphy, adding that Gowdy has far exceeded the 30 volunteering hours required for graduation. Additionally, the Washington State Minority and Justice Commission, chaired by Justices Mary Yu and Charles Johnson of the Washington Supreme Court, recognized Gowdy during their April 2018 meeting for his work with Heal Spokane.

Jacob H. Rooksby, sean of Gonzaga Law, says that Gowdy is “that rare student who manages not only to thrive in law school, but to positively impact their community in the process. To me, Sather Gowdy is the essence of what we hope to be as an institution.” 

For Gowdy, his charitable works are fully integrated into his life. “I started with the idea that I would go until I felt better,” he said. “But it’s been so good to me, it’s kind of a lifestyle at this point.” Gowdy’s lifestyle has caught fire and spread throughout Gonzaga Law and the larger Spokane community, inspiring others to live a life of kindness and of healing.