Thursday, January 21, 2021

VBA MLK, Jr. Poster-Essay Contest Ceremony Success!

 The VBA, along with its Diversity Section and Young Lawyers Division, hosted the fourth annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School Poster-Essay Contest.  Each year, a committee comprised of representatives from the VBA, the VBA Diversity Section and the VBA Young Lawyers Division, chooses a quote by the late Dr. King to inspire the students to participate in the contest. This year’s quote: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends” served as inspiration to over 70 students who submitted a record number of entries!

The committee had a daunting task as 2020 came to a close of having to choose the top 3 Poster-Essay combinations, based on criteria such as relevance to theme, spelling and grammar, content, quality of design and creativity. Given the quality (and quantity) of this year’s submission, this was no easy task! The contest winner, first runner-up and second runner-up are ordinarily invited to an in-person ceremony conducted by the Governor at the Statehouse and the Justices of the Supreme Court in the Vermont Supreme Court building.  This year, however, the ceremony had to be conducted virtually due to the pandemic, but the students and families took it in stride.

VBA President Elizabeth Kruska kicked off the ceremony with introductions and a bit of history about the contest and the chosen quote.  Next, Chief Justice Reiber continued the opening ceremony with some remarks about the importance of celebrating the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday every year and how his message resonates today.  Vermont Superior Court Judge Nancy Waples, who was the first chair of the VBA Diversity Section when the MLK, Jr. Poster-Essay Contest was established, then expressed how impressed she was that all of the submissions dealt with the subject of racial inequality with such insight, despite most not having experienced the discrimination that she and other people of color have experienced throughout their lives. 

Next to speak was Justice Beth Robinson, who had the honor of awarding the trophy to the contest winner. Justice Robinson emphasized how Dr. King’s words and life’s work are especially resonant during these tumultuous times and expressed hope that the students looked to have the qualities and power to “save us all” with their thoughtfulness and commitment to the values of Dr. King and their deep understanding that silence is complicity.

And on to the winners…please scroll down for all the pictures of the posters and winners!

William Cunningham and Elizabeth Cunningham from Edmunds Middle School won the contest with the first place traveling trophy for their school and plaques. William and Elizabeth (6th and 8th grade) described the poster in detail and explained how the eagle in the cage, while caged literally and figuratively by the words of hate, instead looks through the bars to the free eagle, flying away with the key to unlock the cage. The students described how the free but silent eagle with the key has more power to hurt the caged eagle than the cage itself. Although the judging was completely blind and anonymous, Justice Robinson noted that Elizabeth Cunningham once won this contest and once came in second in prior years, showing her creativity knows no bounds! This poster and essay will be featured in the Winter Vermont Bar Journal being published within the month. 

Maeve Parker-Clark from Hinesburg Community School (8th grade) received the first runner-up prize, presented by Justice Harold Eaton.  Before awarding the plaque virtually, Justice Eaton noted that he was just a bit older than the contestants when Dr. King was assassinated, remembering that Dr. King was a beacon of light in very turbulent times and was a messenger of peace and tolerance, so fitting to be honored today with a record number of entries. Maeve then spoke and described her poster as relating Dr. King’s words to modern-day bullying and harassment. She wrote about the need to speak up, becoming more aware that silence is powerful and can equal violence and that not speaking out gives rise to bullying.

Isak Duncan from U-32 Middle School (8th Grade) was the second runner-up prize winner, referenced by Judge Waples in her opening remarks as presenting a more personal take on Dr. King’s quote. Justice Karen Carroll delivered his award, virtually, and asked Isak to give more detail about his poster and essay, drawn from personal experience. Justice Carroll stated that she felt so honored to award the prize to such a deeply personal piece of art and essay and how poignant both were. Isak then described his experience at the tech camp, noting that he’d be a rich person if he had a nickel for every time he heard comments such as “Asian nerd,” but those comments have always been far easier to brush off than when one of his friends stood by in silence when those words were thrown at him. He noted that the essay was not meant to be a sob story or to be focused on the racial slur itself, but more toward the greater hurt caused by friends who were silent.   

Closing remarks were given by Justice William Cohen, who made a special request for more prize winners next year so he’d get a chance, as the newest associate justice, to present an award himself!  Justice Cohen thanked all of the students for their amazingly creative submissions and emphasized how proud they (and their families) should all be for tackling the quote with such insight and creativity. He tied all the posters to the Vermont motto of “freedom and unity” and how important it is for all Vermonters to support each other. President Kruska closed the ceremony noting how great it was to hear the kids describe their posters in detail and how each student interpreted the quote in a different way. Said Kruska: “We certainly have different ideas, but are unified in where we are all trying to go.”

Please check out all the pictures, below, and here’s a link to a VIDEO of the full ceremony!

Above: Winning Poster and Essay by William Cunningham and Elizabeth Cunningham

William and Elizabeth Cunningham at the Ceremony

Above: First Runner-Up Poster and Essay by Maeve Parker-Clark

Maeve Parker-Clark and parents at the Ceremony

Above: Second Runner-Up Poster and Essay by Isak Duncan

                                Isak Duncan at the Ceremony

Snip of the Virtual Ceremony:

And special thanks and congratulations to ALL the students who submitted posters and essays!

Friday, December 4, 2020

A Time to Blog


Where did 2020 go? I’m sure most of us can agree that it was, impossibly so, both the fastest year and the slowest year in memory.  Stuck at home for months on end, the days and weeks can drag monotonously without events, trips or gatherings to look forward to but somehow, at the same time --how can it be December already?! With so many adjustments, shifting priorities and new adventures in multitasking, the year flew by, evidenced at the VBA by a 2020 blog count of 4. Just 4. The VBA blawg consistently had 27 entries in 2019, 23 in 2018 and 26 in 2017 after starting out in 2016 with a record ½ year of 19, mostly about everything and anything and then morphing more into a place to mainly share event photos and stories.

Our last event blog entry was about the We the People competition in March. Looking back, the pictures look strange and other worldly—where are the masks? Seeing people shoulder to shoulder now almost evokes a physical reaction of shock and confusion. I could blame the lack of blogging entirely on the fact that we have had no in-person events, but we all know that’s not the whole story. My law blog idol, Mike Kennedy, who has consistently blogged weekly if not more for years, too, took a semi-hiatus this year as the world shifted before our eyes. The pandemic affects everyone in minor and major ways. We can only be thankful that the effect on the VBA team has been relatively minor, keeping us busy (and employed) and motivating us to find more ways to engage and benefit our members.

There will be more information forthcoming from the VBA with respect to the COVID-19 Committee’s COVID impact survey, but early results show that about half of our members are taking care of children or adults while working full time. Nearly half of us feel unmotivated and more than half of us feel worried or afraid. It’s hard. And, with this even larger second (or third) wave of the pandemic upon us, most feel unsettled knowing that the end is not close enough. We all long to have events and to see each other again.  Never have I craved mediocre hotel food more!

Not via blog but via our website, emails, news and Vermont Bar Journal, we have been updating our members on the goings on here at the VBA, albeit without the shiny happy people pictures. A quick glance at our COVID-19 Resource Page will confirm that we at the VBA have been busy as ever, even more so, keeping our members informed about the pandemic response, maintaining our seat at the table with respect to emergency legislation and court procedures and providing quality education, among other things. Many members have indicated that they enjoy being able to attend CLE’s without travel (or hotel food?). We will continue to listen to you and will always strive to improve the services we provide to our members.

Without a doubt, what the VBA is most thankful for is our members, our amazing community of legal professionals. We are thankful for your patience as we shifted how we offered our services over the last year. We are thankful that so many of you have served on our committees and weekly (and monthly) calls to brainstorm the best ways to get through this pandemic together. We are thankful that our members continue to share their wisdom with each other through our communities or by way of presentation on webinar panels. We are thankful that our members have chosen VBA programming for their CLE’s and have gathered with us, online, for our virtual Mid-Year Meeting (postponed to June) our October Annual Meeting and all the virtual programs we’ve had in-between. And we are of course most thankful that our members chose to renew during this uncertain time. We will endeavor to continually improve our programs as we head into our winter programming such as the family law series, YLD thaw, Tech Week and Real Estate Law days.

This week was our first day of our 3-day bankruptcy law annual CLE, understandably attended mostly by bankruptcy practitioners. But non-bankruptcy practitioners missed out on a sobering but also inspirational speech by US Bankruptcy Judge Colleen A. Brown.  Much of her speech focused on the pandemic and some discouraging statistics but she also gave high praise for the bar’s imagination in pivoting for their clients and for their offices.  Here’s an excerpt:

By applying your imagination, you are able to invoke and employ nuanced, non-binary analysis, and to envision a subtle reconfiguration of competing interests that produces a viable compromise. It manifests as the skill to recognize that the goal in disputes is not to obtain the biggest win for one, but to reach the outcome that will allow the individuals on both sides to walk away with their dignity intact and put the controversy behind them. This cannot happen without the capacity to fully take in the values and priorities of all sides.

That is precisely that sort of creative intelligence we need – as individuals and communities – to survive in, and recover from, this pandemic. We must be able to hold what may, at first, appear to be conflicting views. We must be able to glide back and forth between the large view and the small one, the universal and the personal.

There is a delicate balance to strike. Just as you do when negotiating a complex legal dispute, I encourage you to call on your problem-solving skills, and your imagination, to hold both

     - an appreciation of both the struggles and unanticipated gifts the pandemic has brought to you and your loved ones, AND

     - an awareness of others who need you to tap into your empathy and take action that will help to improve their life circumstances. 

I am confident each of us can hold these contrasting notions simultaneously, and that by doing so we will become more whole, and nourish ourselves and our communities.


The whole speech is linked HERE and we commend you to it.

So here’s to more blogging in 2021, more pictures, more gatherings, more fun. We so look forward to seeing you all again, and not just from the computer screen, zoom mullet style (business on top…).  We are thankful that we continue to share with one another, help one another and commiserate and connect with each other, even if merely over the interwebs. Thank you. We could not have made it through 2020 without you.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Lawyer Well-Being Week

For those of you not following us on Facebook or Twitter, we wanted to repost some of our Lawyer Well-Being Week messages here. This week is Lawyer Well-Being Week, with each day’s work week theme focusing on a different aspect of well-being. Our VBA COVID-19 Resource Page has a link to the full package of materials for the week. But through the week, we’ve been posting on Facebook and Twitter the abbreviated version of the materials, highlighting just one video, one article and one activity per day.

Monday was Stay Strong day, focusing on physical well-being. The materials emphasize getting enough sleep, eating well and staying active, even if it is just standing up once every zoom meeting. Tuesday’s theme was “Align” encouraging us to foster a sense of meaning and purpose in our work and life, with a call to engage in work that is meaningful. Today the focus is on engagement and growth. We do better when we continue to learn and develop both within our jobs and outside of the work environment. As the pinwheel suggests, the next two days will focus on social and emotional well-being. But you don’t have to wait to check out the materials available for those days. In fact, every day should be well-being day because maintaining well-being is a perpetual process, not an event. We owe it to ourselves and others to focus on our well-being whenever we can.

Every morning of this well-being week, Vermont Bar Counsel, Mike Kennedy, has posted short videos about each day’s theme. If you feel like you don’t have the time to check out the full materials for the week, or even time for the pared down version on our Facebook page, irony aside, you can certainly spare the 7 minutes or so every morning to watch Mike Kennedy’s video summaries! Here’s a link to today’s video, a favorite of the VBA for obvious reasons, and you can check out all of his videos from there.

This pandemic has undoubtedly caused us all to feel stress and anxiety, so Lawyer Well-Being Week could not have come at a better time. Remember there are resources out there including the Vermont Lawyers Assistance Program if the stress feels too overwhelming. The pandemic has also caused many of us to become more introspective and think about priorities, and perhaps have a little more time to spare. In that spare time, why not check out some of the resources put together by professionals to help us all focus on well-being. You might feel better for it!

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

We the People

The Vermont State Finals of the We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution took place at the Vermont History Museum and Statehouse Pavilion yesterday. After a hiatus in attendance due to the elimination of federal funding for the program, Martha Deiss, Global Citizen Specialist at the Agency of Education, kickstarted, organized and facilitated this year’s competition so that Vermont could send a team to Washington, D.C.  VBA member volunteers jumped at the opportunity to judge the students at the event, to the extent that we had to turn volunteers away!

Students from St. Johnsbury Academy, Poultney High School and Williamstown High School competed and impressed at the event. Judges were blown away by the students’ knowledge, poise and passion for civics as they presented arguments on issues ranging from voting rights to separation of powers, from citizenship to populism and everything in-between.  Each team of three students are given 4 minutes to present on questions chosen by the judges from a list of potential questions provided to the students in advance.  After these presentations, the fun really began as the students were peppered with follow-up questions for six minutes-- questions not provided in advance.

As the students explored basic constitutional provisions on issues relating to voting rights, due process, shared sovereignty, speech and the like, they quickly pulled historical and current examples to the fray, not shying away from hot topics such as non-citizen voting, marijuana legislation and the rise of nationalism. All involved couldn’t help but be awash with pride as so many young people engaged in meaningful discourse regarding civics. Kudos to the teacher-coaches for prepping these amazing students who will undoubtedly and forever be engaged citizens!

Each high school team was asked a specific question from each of 6 units: (1) What Are the Philosophical and Historical Foundations of the American Political System; (2) How Did the Framers Create the Constitution; (3) How Has the Constitution Been Changed to Further the Ideals Contained in the Declaration of Independence; (4) How Have the Values and Principals Embodied in the Constitution Shaped American Institutions and Practices; (5) What Rights Does the Bill of Rights Protect and (6) What Challenges Might Face American Constitutional Democracy in the Twenty-First Century? Winners were awarded for each of the 6 units, with the team with the most unit-wins being crowned the overall State Champion. Congratulations to all unit winners and to St. Johnsbury Academy for taking home the trophy! Enjoy the pictures from the event, including the pizza party awards ceremony, below.

Special thanks to our attorney judges: Megan Campbell, Lauren Curran, Dylan Giambatista, Jacob Humbert, Evan Meehan, Keith Roberts, Jenny Ronis, Avi Springer, Alfonso Villegas and Leslie Welts, to Martha and her volunteers and to all the folks at the Vermont History Museum and Vermont Building & Grounds.