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Former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch Highlights Legacy at UVI Student Convocation

President David Hall, Former U.S. A.G. Loretta Lynch and Board of Trustee vice-chair, Oran Roebuck

The University of the Virgin Islands hosted the Honorable Loretta E. Lynch, former U.S. Attorney General, on Feb. 25, at a Student Convocation held in the Great Hall on the Albert A. Sheen Campus, on St. Croix. The event was accessible via a livestream on the University’s website and YouTube page - to allow for students, staff and faculty on St. Thomas Campus to view the event.

“As the only HBCU outside of the mainland, it is inspiring to have as our guest for this student convocation, occurring in the midst of Black History Month, a person who HBCUs are a part of her lineage, and our collective legacy of pursuing social justice runs through her veins,” said President David Hall. “Her life and career embodies the core message of this institution.”

Born in Greensboro, North Carolina, to HBCU graduate parents, Lynch understood the significance of a solid education from young. She graduated from Harvard College in 1981 and received her juris doctorate from Harvard Law School in 1984. She was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as the 83rd U.S. Attorney General from 2015-2017. 

On Tuesday, Attorney Lynch was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University. Lynch was vested by Oran Roebuck, Board of Trustees vice-chair and presented with her diploma by President Hall.

During the convocation, UVI students had the opportunity to ask Lynch a variety of questions. Christopher McDonald, Student Government Association president on the St. Thomas Campus, asked the former U.S Attorney General what factors she believes led to her exceedingly long nomination process. He further questioned whether race and gender were contributing factors.

“We have to always understand that how others perceive us is almost always a factor in how they deal with us but that is not necessarily a limitation that we should internalize. You will find people who will look at you and try to put you in their vision of where you should be and you can never let them do that. You own your own life and you tell your own story,” Lynch said.

Lynch’s nomination process took longer than any attorney general in history; it took six months. She noted that her confirmation followed closely on the heels of the 2012 election, and with the change of leadership, scheduling was likely to slow down. “But also in the context of the Obama Administration, we saw an unprecedented effort to stymie a number of his initiatives,” she said. “What you learn whenever you are up for nomination is that if there is something that the administration wants and Congress doesn’t want to give it to them, they will use whatever leverage they have to try and change that dynamic,” Lynch added. Cautioning the students, Lynch said, “Certain things you are going to find in life are going to be out of your control. “Things that you are going to want badly that are not going to come to fruition. You are going to be perfect for a position or role that will go to someone else. These things will happen in life. They are not a reflection of you but a reflection of someone else’s inability to see you.”

Sherkquan Henry, Miss UVI 2019-2020, who also brought greetings on behalf of the student body, asked which legislations or judicial rulings she thought made the biggest contributions to the progress of minorities in the pursuit of the American dream.

“When you are moving along a goal or going along a path, it is not the guarantee of victory that sustains you, it’s the virtue of your cause, the rightness of your cause and every step you make is a step along that path because there are no guarantees,” Lynch responded. “Moving not toward a particular title or position but to have a particular impact…Because of these sacrifices and because ultimately of the sacrifice that (Martin Luther) King himself made, we were able to have finally the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Act of 1965. These were tremendous accomplishments.”

When asked by Shemar Davis, a criminal justice major on the Sheen Campus, what her experience was like working with President Barack Obama and being selected for such an important role in our society, she praised President Obama for his stellar leadership.

“One of the strengths of President Obama as a president and as a leader was his ability to listen,” Lynch expressed. “He always had the view that someone had something to teach him. He wanted to empower everyone around him. He gave us tremendous discretion on how we ran our agencies, he trusted us to do the right thing and be ethical, and he had faith in all of us in his cabinet that we were implementing his policies fairly and faithfully,” she added.

“When it came to the criminal justice issues, he made it clear that it was important to him that fairness be a part of the criminal justice system. For him that meant listening to as many voices as possible. Working for President Obama highlighted for me the importance of listening to all voices, of making sure that everyone who is impacted by an issue has a seat at the table even if they traditionally would not have had that seat.” 

Enperatriz Delgadillo, Student Government president on the Sheen Campus stated, “You are described as having been instrumental in shaping the direction of the nation on a number of tough issues.” She then asked, “Which of those issues would you consider paramount to your legacy?”

“One of the issues that was most important to me as the Attorney General was working on the issue of law enforcement and community relations,” she replied. “It has always been important to me to view law enforcement as the protector of people particularly those individuals who often don’t get that protection, who don’t get the benefit of law enforcement but always get the burdens of law enforcement and so it was really important to me to expand that,” she said. “I always knew that if we could find a way to connect on that essential element and issue of protecting the community, we could improve this relationship between law enforcement and the minority.”

Speaking on her legacy, Lynch said, "I'd like to be remembered as the attorney general who went to Washington and took the Attorney General's office out into the country and brought justice to underserved communities."

Offering closing remarks, Raven Phillips, UVI student trustee, thanked Attorney Lynch for agreeing to speak to and hear from UVI’s students. “Your career stands as an important symbol for black men and women everywhere,” Phillips said. “Additionally, you have set an amazing example for young black academics to recognize the disparate treatment of marginalized groups, and make a conscious decision to stand up for both them and ourselves.”

 “I must thank the students in attendance and the viewing and listening audience,” said Phillips. “I thank you for coming or listening in as we celebrate the last week of Black History Month in the best way possible: engaging with a successful black woman and figure of American history, while inspiring the future leaders of America and abroad,” she said. “May we all use what was shared here and take steps to understand what role we play in our communities, how our differing identities coexist within these communities, then collaborate to fix the issues we all face.”