Meghan McCauley, a first-year law student at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, recently was chosen as the winner of the 2008 Cohen Professionalism Scholars competition, based on an essay she wrote about integrity. McCauley, whose essay was entitled, "Commandment 10: Honor who you are and you will bring honor to what you do," received a $1,000 scholarship from the sponsors of the contest, Loren Cohen and Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Bruce R. Cohen, an alumnus of the College of Law. The Cohens awarded second place and a $500 scholarship to Alison Atwater, and honorable mentions, along with $250 scholarships, to Amy M. Coughenour, Natalie Greaves and Daniel A. Lewis. The Cohens will be taking the students to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles in June. This is the third annual presentation of the awards. The Cohens visited the law school on Tuesday, April 8, to give the awards and to talk about the topic of the essay competition, integrity. "Integrity is not a black and white issue," Judge Cohen said. "Integrity is the result of the struggle that goes on in your own mind and how you act upon those thoughts." He showed a clip from the movie, The Rainmaker, in which actor Matt Damon portrays a young lawyer who is faced with right and wrong. Paraphrasing from the film, Judge Cohen noted that "every lawyer in every case has the opportunity to cross the line, and if you cross the line one too many times, it frequently disappears, and then you become a lawyer joke." He encouraged the students to let their own standards be the highest against which they will be judged. "Every single day you have the opportunity to start with a clean slate - no matter what you did in the past, you choose what gets written on that slate," Judge Cohen said. "No one can compromise your integrity, no one can tell you what to do." The entire Class of 2010 submitted essays to the Cohens, writing about the greatest moral dilemmas they'd ever faced and how they were resolved. The Cohens said the submissions were entertaining and inspiring, making the judging very difficult. "If you're not called up here, you nonetheless have inspired us and raised our optimism for the legal profession for the future," Judge Cohen said. McCauley's essay recounted her internal struggle with telling the truth about her past indiscretions when applying to get in to the Air Force, and risk not only being rejected, but bringing dishonor to three prior military generations of her family, or lying about her past and being admitted. "We never realize the dark skeletons we have in our closets until we are asked to fill out a character and fitness report, asking everything from, did we ever pull someone's hair in the first grade to whether or not we took a sip of alcohol prior to the day we turned twenty one to whether or not we had committed misdemeanors or worse felonies," McCauley wrote. To find out her decision, read her essay here. Atwater wrote a poem, "How Inmate Forty-Five Earned His Stripes," a Dr. Seuss-metered, first-person view of a lawyer who was caught fudging a deal. The attorney's conscience and guilt battle back and forth in the prose:
"I started with values, But where did they go? How the error escaped me I never will know.
I thought it was worth it To get where I was, But right has one reason, And that's "Just because." "So hand me that bucket, That mop and that pail. I must finish cleaning The floor of this jail.
To read Atwater's poem, click here. Coughenour had no problem coming up with a topic for her essay. "Frankly, I'm jealous of whatever percentage of the class has to manufacture a problem to have something to write about," she wrote. "In my 31 years, I've made so many moral and ethical decisions that I can hardly keep track, any one of which would be fertile ground for discussion here. The one she chose relates to the difficulty of being a law student and a single mother of three young girls and a proposal from her parents to allow the children to live with them during the week. She weighed the pros and cons, a moral battle that continues to rage in her head. In Greaves' essay "The Kool-Aid Principle," she spoke with her two children, Caleb and Aspen. The story focused on where she drew her line on ethics during a tiring visit to Wal-Mart. "We had finished a very long day of shopping for groceries," she wrote. "I finally got you all out to the car, which is pretty much just like herding cats. I loaded you all into your car seats and put the groceries in the trunk. There, at the bottom of the otherwise empty shopping cart was the biggest, nastiest, test of integrity that any tired mom could ever have. It was a tiny little KOOL-AID packet. A ten cent, ruby red, bomb of temptation, aimed right at my strength and fortitude." Read what Greaves did about it here. "My Ethical Dilemma" was the title of Lewis' essay, which recounted his thought processes after finding a pair of sunglasses. The glasses were somewhat beat up, and not an expensive brand, and Lewis found himself thinking about keeping them. "Almost instinctively, humans know that it is immoral to take other people's stuff," he wrote. "Why had I even considered keeping them, even for a moment? I think that our human nature pushes us constantly and selfishly to seek gain. However we have to temper that nature with our morality." To find out what Lewis decided, read his essay. Judge Cohen told the essay winners that he and Loren had no doubt that they will be exceptional representatives of the law school whose integrity will go a long way toward reducing, if not eliminating, lawyer jokes. "You moved us tremendously," he said. "We have no idea where you stand in your class or where you are academically, but we know you will be successful professionals and bring honor to your work if you maintain what you evidenced in your writing."
Meghan McCauley's essayAlison Atwater's essayNatalie Greaves' essayDaniel A. Lewis' essay