Students, mentors close the book on JYC 2016

Issue September/October 2016 By Joe Kourieh

Twenty-nine high school students received certificates noting their completion of the 2016 Judicial Youth Corps (JYC) program at the Corps' annual Appreciation Day on August 11. They were given praise, along with valuable advice, from speakers, including Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Geraldine S. Hines, Past Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA) President Robert Harnais, Massachusetts Bar Foundation (MBF) President Janet Aserkoff and several others.

Of the 29, 19 students were from Boston area high schools, and 10 were from Worcester. This year marked the 25th year overall that the JYC has been active, and 10 years since the Worcester area schools joined in. The MBA has run the Worcester program since its inception with financial support from the MBF. This year, for the first time, the Worcester program also received funding from the Worcester County District Attorney's Office.

The two regional groups faced off in a mock trial to start the day, going through all the regular proceedings of a trial, with pointers and instructions coming from presiding Judge Jonathan Tynes of the Boston Municipal Court, where necessary. The fictional trial - a murder case - had Boston students defending an elderly man who had shot dead his son-in-law, claiming self-defense. Both parties sought to carefully navigate the intense emotional landscape of the case in constructing their arguments, all while adhering to the appropriate proceedings and conduct of trial. The trial ran too long for the jury to engage in a full deliberation, and a quick survey by Boston JYC Coordinator and Boston Latin School Associate Headmaster Gerald Howland, who sat among the jury, found them split down the middle.

The opposing parties then converged and made their way to the John Adams Courthouse, where they were addressed first by Hines, who said she "look[s] forward to bragging about your accomplishments in the future" as JYC graduates move boldly through their budding careers.

"You can fully embrace new challenges without the fear of failure," she said, "or you can escape the fear - you can break through it, doing what you know you were called to do. … We and your parents have given you roots and wings, and it's now time for you to fly."

Harnais also described the JYC as a guiding force for those destined to be involved in the legal profession, whether as lawyers or judges.

"You have an incredible opportunity," Harnais said. "The experience you're having right now could open up many doors. Take this knowledge, and let it bring you in the direction you're meant to go. … The MBA is proud to be a part of this."

He also offered simple but important advice to the graduates.

"Love the law," he said, adding, "This is an incredible system."

Harnais' counterpart at the MBF praised the youths for aligning themselves with the court system - what she called "an important American system for change."

"You all chose to do this program this year," Aserkoff said, "and I hope that you have been inspired by this to devote some portion of your life, whether it's your working life or your citizen life, to support our judiciary system. It's such a vital and important part of how we function as a society.

"On behalf of the Foundation, we look forward to continuing to participate in and support this program in the years ahead, and we thank all of you for your participation," she said.

Howland advised the students of the JYC to treat every opponent as a worthy opponent.

"Treat them respectfully, and you'll have a better trial because of it," he said.

He went on to praise the individuals throughout the Suffolk County court system who mentor and educate student participants for free. These mentors are "where the strength of this program truly lies."

"This is a program that is able to happen because of the support of many people, and I've found that people in the legal field more than any other are willing to take that extra step to help somebody out along the way."

A handful of students stood to personally thank their mentors for the opportunities they provided, such as Alexis Thomas from Cathedral High School in Boston's South End, who assisted in jury selection every morning at Suffolk Superior Court, or Ivan Andrade, a Boston Community Leadership Academy student with aspirations to be a detective, who thanked court officials for helping to hone his discipline and objectivity.

Before the certificates were handed out, two student speakers were invited to give their perspectives on the influence of the JYC, including Anicia Gillespie of Kents Hill School in Maine, who reflected on her encounters with many prestigious personalities in the state's judicial and political scenes, and Tal Usvyatsky from Worcester's Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science, who said that working in the courts inspires "a new type of personal responsibility."

"You feel responsible for helping other people with any type of problem they might have," she said. "You feel responsible for resolving the practical matters but you also feel a very new type of responsibility for the community - for helping in the overarching, broader issues that will help the community at large. … In that way, this program turns us into conscientious members of the community and into mindful people as well."