The Commencement ceremony for the CPS master’s program recognized Heather Heyer, a paralegal killed last summer during protests against neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.
By B.L. Wilson
Susan Bro knew that her daughter, Heather Heyer, worked at a law firm. But she said that she learned only a few weeks ago that she was a paralegal. It makes sense, she said, that law was the profession in which Ms. Heyer had begun to find herself before she was killed.
Ms. Heyer died nine months ago protesting neo-Nazis and white supremacists rallying in Charlottesville, Va. Nineteen others were injured when a young man drove a car into a group of marchers.
The George Washington University College of Professional Studies Paralegal Studies Program posthumously inducted Ms. Heyer into Lambda Epsilon Chi, the national paralegal honor society, along with 22 GW graduates at the program’s 2018 Commencement celebration.
Toni Marsh, the director of Paralegal Studies, introduced Ms. Bro as keynote speaker to GW faculty, students, family members and friends who traveled from as far away as California and Minnesota for the ceremony held Friday evening at the School of Media and Public Affairs.
“Of course Heather Heyer would become a paralegal,” Ms. Marsh said. “People become paralegals because they want to make a difference and have a passion for justice. They care about the world, the people around them, and they want to do good work.”
There was a color theme running throughout the SMPA reception hall, purple and gold for law, and purple tinged with pink for Ms. Heyer. Many in attendance wore the latter colors in honor of Ms. Heyer.
Ms. Bro said when she was invited to speak she read about GW’s program, noting that it provides training in effective written and verbal communication, conducting research and presenting the results, analyzing legal issues, thinking critically, operating ethically, protecting client confidences and avoiding conflicts of interest.
“Good grief! How in the world you all accomplished all that training in just two years is amazing to me. Heather never had the opportunity to complete a graduate program,” she said.
But in the five years she worked for the Miller Law group in Charlottesville, Ms. Heyer became a paralegal while working on the job, advising people in the beginning stages of filing for bankruptcy.
“As I made my way around the community in the days following her murder, I was approached by hundreds of people from all walks of life,” Ms. Bro said. “They wanted to tell me not just, ‘We’re sorry.’ But they wanted to tell me they had met her and remembered her work.
“They said she was able to help them change and reassured them. They talked about how she was able to give them a better feeling of confidence and security,” said Ms. Bro, her voice breaking at times. “In the office, they tell me Heather helped streamline processes and create a client checklist that is still used today.”
She encouraged GW paralegal graduates to hold their heads high with pride, believe in themselves and to be open to lifelong learning. “Know that you have in your hands the capability of making someone in desperate circumstances believe that their world will be okay,” she said. “So, go out into the world and make a difference.”
Ms. Marsh then called upon each of the honorees, including Ms. Bro, to receive the purple and gold roped chord, pin and certificate inducting them into the paralegal honor society.
“You’re already in a group of people who are among the best in the nation in this field and among that elite group, [you have] achieved at the very highest levels,” she said.
Among those attending the ceremony were Interim CPS Dean Christopher Deering, CPS Associate Dean for Marketing and Enrollment Management Cyrus Homayounpour and CPS Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Career Services Melissa Feuer.
In brief remarks, Samantha Pernal, president of the Paralegal Alumni Association, encouraged graduates to join and take advantage of its continuing education and support.
After the ceremonies, a number of parents and graduates came forward to embrace Ms. Bro and thank her for her courage in speaking out and continuing her daughter’s fight for social justice.
Ms. Bro said she has created the Heather Heyer Foundation, which provides scholarships to young people who are studying to be paralegals and are engaged in social work, social justice and education to promote peaceful social change and unity. It is housed at the law firm where her daughter worked. She said that her daughter would have been 33 years old this month.