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April 18, 2013

ULM alum overcomes adversity and gives back to those in need

In 2012, Theodore Shaw earned in Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from the University of Louisiana at Monroe, an accomplishment that seemed almost impossible just six years prior.

Now working for the nonprofit civil rights organization—the Southern Poverty Law Center in New Orleans—Shaw often revisits his past and the incident that brought him to a significant turning point in his life.

"I grew up in a neighborhood of hopelessness," he said.

"But today, I stand on the cusp of starting my legal education. As a teenager, I had dreams and aspirations like any other youth, but every so often, my hopes would be impinged upon by my reality. With about eight days remaining in my high school career, I had an experience that awakened my desire to be an attorney."

Shaw was one of six high school students involved in the infamous "Jena Six" incident, in December 2006.

"I spent almost eight months confined in a dark and noisome cell," Shaw continued.

"After my legal difficulties were resolved, I was able to examine my experiences from a constructive perspective."

Shaw began his journey at ULM in 2010 and found that he chose the right university and the right career path.

"As a student and employee at ULM, my experiences were amazing. Some of my favorite moments were being able to engage in debate with my classmates in the political science classes, especially during the presidential election," Shaw said.

"The intense debates always made class worthwhile."

Shaw found many of his experiences at ULM to be helpful in shaping his future.

"My time as a resident assistant at ULM was an amazing leadership opportunity. Accompanied by other RAs, we were able to promote an environment conducive to academic learning, while creating programs and activities to meet the needs of residents."

Shaw's current job as an advocate with the SPLC is evidence of his ability to adapt and progress, despite adversity.

"The education I obtained at ULM has been a huge asset in my pursuits," said Shaw.

"As an advocate, I am charged with the duty of investigating individuals' complaints and writing a memo on the findings in order to present it to the attorneys. I'm positive I would not be as effective at work without the research and writing skills I learned at ULM."

"I also have to give credit to ULM's Spanish Department," continued Shaw.

"I honestly don't recall a lot of the terms, but the professors helped me augment my oral and interpersonal communication skills. The knowledge and skills I have acquired shall greatly assist in my future endeavors."

Shaw aspires to help those who may be in legal situations not unlike the one he faced in his teenage years.

He said, "I would ultimately like to become a trial lawyer. I will be applying to law school in October 2013. I am positive that my personal experiences, coupled with my educational and professional background shall greatly assist in gaining admission to my dream-school."

Throughout his education at ULM, Shaw was guided by a cohort of ULM professors, intent on showing him the intricacies of the justice system through class discussion and supportive professor feedback.

"Dr. John W. Sutherlin, associate professor of political science, and Dr. Joshua Stockley, associate professor of political science, were inspirational to me," said Shaw.

"The political science classes were not solely about acquiring knowledge. These professors taught me how to be a critical thinker."

"Theo Shaw was the type of student that forces you as a professor to give a better lecture," said Sutherlin.

"You would never know what questions he would ask or what he may argue with you about in class. I enjoy it when students take their abilities to the next level and challenge you. It raises the standards for all students."

Shaw said during class discussions, he was "compelled to not just offer [his] perspective, but provide evidence grounded in research that would substantiate and further [his] viewpoint."

"This skill has proven valuable, as I am routinely in on strategy meetings with the attorneys at SPLC. It was not always easy to listen to the professors' critiques, but I was so blessed and humbled to have them as professors."

Stockley remembers Shaw as a strong-willed and dedicated student.

"Most students allow their misfortunes or shortcomings to define them; however, that was not the case with Theo. First, he refused to allow the label of 'Jena Six' define him. It was not something he bragged about or openly spoke about, but it was not something he ran away from or denied. He was simply Theodore Shaw, political science major.

"Second, he never accepted being average…He was an exceptional student and more importantly, an exceptional individual who always had a smile on his face and always had a positive attitude."

Shaw reflects on his past, present and future, and understands that his education and fortitude were major catalysts in his current success.

"Everyone has dreams and aspirations, albeit a lot of people lack the motivation and means to attend college. I, on the other hand, believe that the American dream is rooted in education."

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