Erin Seagears, a third-year student at the University of Virginia School of Law, is this year’s recipient of the Gregory H. Swanson Award, named in honor of UVA and the Law School’s first black student.
The award recognizes students who demonstrate courage, perseverance and a commitment to justice within the community.
Seagears received the award Tuesday as part of UVA’s Community MLK Celebration event at the Law School.
“I first learned of Gregory Swanson in undergrad at UVA while training to be a tour guide,” said Seagears, who earned a bachelor’s in political and social thought from UVA. “I remember being so inspired by his story, and now I feel incredibly honored to receive this award in tribute to his legacy. Winning this award definitely encourages me in my pursuit for justice and motivates me to always fight for what’s right, even if what I’m trying to achieve has never been done before and no matter the adversity.”
At UVA Law, Seagears was elected to the Raven Society; served as co-president of the student board of the Program in Law and Public Service; worked on the Virginia Journal for Social Policy & the Law; received summer fellowships to intern in public service roles; mentored students as a Peer Advisor; and was the Student Bar Association’s representative to the UVA Student Council. She has also clerked for Judge Richard Moore ’80 of Charlottesville Circuit Court.
After law school, Seagears will clerk for Judge John Nugent of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.
She credits the UVA Law faculty and hands-on learning experiences for her successes.
“I’ve had amazing professors who have both taught and shown me what it looks like to be a passionate and excellent public service attorney,” Seagears said. “And perhaps most importantly, through clinics, alternative spring break trips and other opportunities, I’ve been able to put all I’ve learned into practice — working on real cases that have an impact on actual individuals.”
The award, launched in 2018 during a commemoration ceremony of Swanson’s time at UVA, is meant to recognize students with traits he embodied. Swanson attended UVA Law during the 1950-51 academic year as an LL.M. student after winning a federal lawsuit aided by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Seagears said the most meaningful experience for her in law school was arguing for the early release of a juvenile from prison with her Child Advocacy Clinic colleagues. Law students were able to convince a court to modify a 17-year-old’s sentence. Instead of spending the next five years in the Department of Corrections, their client will be transitioning out of the juvenile correctional center and enrolling in college in the fall.
“I came to law school with the hope of bringing dignity, care and justice to juveniles, and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to do that in my last year of law school,” she said. “It was such an honor to represent our client, and I could not have asked for a better experience for my very first court appearance.”
Amy Walters ’09, an attorney at the Legal Aid Justice Center and a lecturer with the Child Advocacy Clinic, was one of Seagears’ nominators. Walters said Seagears has worked with LAJC as an intern and through clinics to address the legal needs of low-income clients in Virginia.
“From the beginning, Erin demonstrated a passion for social justice and innate leadership skills,” she said. “These strengths, combined with her competence, work ethic and infectious likability, make her stand out as an exceptional student and advocate who undoubtedly will have an impactful career in public service.”
Seagears said she hopes to one day become a juvenile court judge to help divert children from incarceration and equip them with the support they need to have a productive life.
“As I am reminded of how Swanson took up the challenge of integrating UVA as one individual student, I am especially grateful to have so many peers and friends beside me who are full of courage and are also committed to seeing justice be done,” she said. “Just as I’m inspired by Gregory Swanson and what he did, I am inspired each day by my passionate community and all the hard work it does to bring change.”
Previous Gregory H. Swanson Award Winners
Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.