GJEL Accident Attorneys is proud to announce Janiyah Williams as the winner of the 2023 GJEL Law Student Scholarship.

Law school is expensive, and the attorneys at GJEL understand the financial burdens law students face when working toward their degrees.

In support of those efforts, GJEL is pleased to award $2,000 scholarships annually to deserving students. This annual scholarship recognizes outstanding law students who demonstrate exceptional academic achievement and a commitment to the principles of justice and law.

2023 GJEL Law Scholarship Winner 1

Scholarship Eligibility

To be eligible for this award, the student must be enrolled in an accredited United States Law School by Fall 2023. Students must provide a copy of a valid school-issued ID or an acceptance letter at the time of their submission to prove enrollment.

Winners will be selected based on the following criteria from the attorneys at GJEL.

  • The quality of the writing
  • The thoughtfulness of the writing
  • Original content

Read Dayana’s full essay below:

In Maya Angelou’s poem,

“Still I Rise,” she says “Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear I rise.”

These poignant words have resonated with me since I read them for the first time, but they became my motto during my undergraduate years. My dream is to be an attorney who advocates for those who have been improperly treated in our justice system. But, my journey to achieving that dream has not always been a smooth road.

During the second semester of my sophomore year, my life was great. I adjusted to my college environment and finally felt like I belonged on campus. I was hired as a Residential Advisor in my favorite residence hall on campus. I was happy: I was connecting with my residents, spending time with my friends, and maintaining my grades and Dean’s List standing. My life was full of adventure and excitement, and I was enjoying my college experience.

Then, the first COVID-19 outbreak began, and I found out I was pregnant. My world was turned completely upside down, and every ounce of confidence and security that I had in my future plans was ripped away from me. My classes transitioned to a virtual format, the residence halls were closed, and I was isolated from all of my friends. Like many others across the world, I was left with nothing but the haze of confusion and vulnerability. But that haze was thicker for me because I was expecting.

Pregnancy is traditionally depicted as a beautiful time in a woman’s life: she is surrounded by love, and her aura is radiant and exudes happiness. By all means, not all pregnancies are like this, but I always imagined mine would be. But it wasn’t. It was filled with loneliness, fear, and worry about my future as well as my unborn child’s. Not only did I not want her to be born in the chaos of the pandemic, but I also didn’t want her to be born into a world in which her mother did not know how to properly care for her. I felt inadequate due to my age and worried that I would be unable to rise to the occasion and give her everything that she deserved.

For months, I was drowning in my own thoughts and fears. I felt like I was stuck in a paradox because even though I felt vulnerable, my growing baby reaffirmed my drive to continuously work toward my professional goals. Reflecting on that time now, I can say that my strength truly manifested because I had a reason to persevere and keep rising beyond my fears and doubts. I knew I had to prepare for motherhood, but I also knew in order to be the best mother to my child, I had to embody the values that I planned on instilling in her: I had to be strong, I couldn’t give up on myself, I had to keep rising.

I successfully finished my spring semester and then began my internship. I interned with the Dean of Students Office at my university and worked on updating our Title IX policy and website. I initially associated Title IX with sexual misconduct, but after learning the broad range of protections that Title IX provides beyond sexual misconduct, I sought to bring change to my campus community by creating a more inclusive atmosphere, specifically for pregnant and parenting students. I updated our entire Title IX website and created several new resource pages, including a page for pregnant and parenting students filled with campus, local, and federal resources. Pregnancy can be difficult at any stage in one’s life, but it can be especially difficult when simultaneously navigating through college. I wanted other young parents to know that there are resources available, so I took it upon myself to gather as much information and as many resources as I could to make the college experience easier for any young parents who come after me.

It can be easy to give up on your dreams when becoming a parent. Our higher education system has been designed for childless students, and that was a fact that I began to learn all too well. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 52 percent of student parents leave college without completing their degree. When I revealed to my supervisor that I was pregnant, I lost my position as a residential advisor and was told that I would have to find off-campus housing. Navigating through finding housing, enrolling in courses that would not interfere with my doctor’s appointments, and researching adequate child care was a challenging process that made me question whether I could successfully be a mom and a full-time student. But my family and internship connected me with people who helped me every step of the way and guided me in the right direction. I completed my internship and gained a newfound hope and desire to help other young student-parents like myself. The enormous fear I had when first discovering that I was pregnant faded, and I began to believe that I was capable of being a new mom and still achieving my academic goals.

I had my beautiful daughter in October of 2020, at the height of a COVID surge. It wasn’t the pregnancy and birth I imagined, but it is my story, and it was beautiful. As I look at my little girl now, I am reminded of the hope that she gave me. I see her, and I see hope for our future and hope for the young mothers in similar situations. I can look back and be proud of my strength and perseverance during the most difficult time of my life. Being a mom and full-time student has shown me that I am capable of doing anything that I set my mind to. Despite the hurdles, I remained on the Dean’s List throughout my pregnancy and first year of motherhood, increased my GPA, and graduated magna cum laude.

In law school, I knew that I would face more hurdles, but I also knew I was ready to rise and take the next steps in my life’s journey. Just as I used my platform to help other student-parents, I plan to use my law degree to advocate for other marginalized groups. My goal is to pursue a career in civil rights law. Becoming an attorney is more than a dream career to me; it is the best way for me to continue to help others rise above their struggles and secure access to the civil rights and liberties that they deserve. I am eager to join a legal community filled with people who share my passion for advocacy and desire to create real change in their communities and on a larger scale. Earning my Juris Doctor from such a prestigious institution is the best way for me to gain the knowledge and support necessary to empower those in need during my law career.

My story may not read like that of the typical law student, but I believe that it shows that I am even more equipped for the journey ahead. Getting to this point has not always been easy, but still I am rising, and I will never stop until I have accomplished all that I can and achieve every goal I have set for myself. I am proud to be Black, to be a woman, to be a young mother. All of these aspects of my identity represent various ways that I have risen above the hurdles that were placed before me, and they give me the confidence and adaptability necessary to succeed in law school. As a current 2L, I can proudly say that I am preparing myself to be the attorney who advocates for marginalized people like myself and helps them get the justice they deserve. I am proving to myself everyday that no matter what challenges law school throws my way, still, I will rise and become the attorney I have always dreamt of being.

Previous Winners:

Hyun Jun “Diana” Malcolm of San Joaquin College of Law [ 2022]

Katherine Alay – [$1,000 Award]

Jack Weller Spring 2021 – [$1,000 Award]

Author Photo

Andy Gillin received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He is the managing partner of GJEL Accident Attorneys and has written and lectured in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury law for numerous organizations. Since 1972 he has been helping seriously injured victims throughout northern California fight & win their personal injury cases. Andy is one of the top awarded & recognized wrongful death lawyers in northern California.