Elon Law student joins First Lady at State of the Union
Tyrone Davis L'14, a Leadership Fellow at Elon University School of Law, attended the President’s annual address on Jan. 28 as a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama, an honor the White House reserves for "extraordinary Americans who exemplify the themes and ideals laid out in the State of the Union Address." Learn why Davis was selected and about his hopes for the future in this article.
More than 8,000 news outlets around the world reported on Davis attending the State of the Union as a guest of the First Lady, including The Guardian in the United Kingdom, El País in Spain, the Associated Press, United Press International and hundreds of newspapers across the United States. The official announcement from the White House cited Davis’s achievements as an Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Climate Corps fellow.
“His recommendations [to Elizabeth City State University] showed the school how to achieve savings of more than $31,000 a year, resulting in nearly 200 metric tons of carbon emissions reductions annually,” the White House said.
In a Jan. 30 Winston-Salem Journal article, Davis described the State of the Union experience as “unreal.”
“I couldn’t believe it was actually happening. I still can’t actually believe that it happened,” Davis said.
In Davis’s interview with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), he explained why he was invited to attend the State of the Union address.
“The Council on Environmental Quality was looking for possible stories to highlight, and EDF passed along a group of Climate Corps stories, including mine,” Davis said. “The Council thought my experience as a fellow with Elizabeth City State University in 2010 aligned with some of the President’s themes for the State of the Union. Last Friday I received a call inviting me to be one of the First Lady’s guests at the address. It was unreal to hear those words. I’m thinking, ‘I’m free for this!’”
In an interview with Grist, an environmental news blog, Davis noted why he was in China when he got the news about the First Lady’s invitation.
“The law school [at Elon University] is doing a joint program with the business school,” Davis said. “They sent us to China to look at some of the business and legal problems that some companies face doing business in China. We spent some time in Shanghai and the rest of the time in Hong Kong talking to executives and management officials of these corporations, and asking them about what’s most tough about doing business in China.”
George R. Johnson, Jr., dean of Elon University School of Law, said the law school community was thrilled for Davis to have joined the First Lady at the State of the Union. Johnson said that the honor was a fitting recognition of Davis’s leadership on environmental solutions in North Carolina.
“In 2011, Mr. Davis was named a Leadership Fellow at Elon Law, in part, because of his passion for working on environmental issues, and we are confident that Tyrone Davis has many great things ahead,” Johnson said. “He is a wonderful example of the lawyer-leaders we prepare at Elon University School of Law."
"Tyrone Davis is an inspiration, and I am so happy to see his hard work and dedication rewarded with this incredible honor," said Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp.
In an interview with Elon University, Davis described his work as an Environmental Defense Fund Climate Corps fellow, his interest in law and his appreciation for the Leadership Fellows program at Elon Law. Excerpts from that interview follow.
Elon: Tell us about your Environmental Defense Fund Climate Corps fellowship.
Davis: “The main goal of that program is to reduce carbon emissions that come from power plants, because that’s one of the biggest sources of carbon, which helps lead to global climate change. I did a fellowship at Elizabeth City State University. I looked at four facilities that they had and, along with the facility’s managers, tried to figure out ways that those buildings could cut their energy consumption. I developed a report and did a financial analysis of what kind of investment it would take to make those buildings more energy-efficient, looking at how long it would take for the school to make that money back.”
Elon: Describe what you see as the value of your presence at the State of the Union address as a guest of the First Lady.
Davis: “I guess the main thing is for people to become more aware about climate change issues … I think that it’s important for people to understand that there are ways that we can make our environment safer and cleaner by watching how we use energy in our homes and how we use energy in our buildings. It’s also to let people know that the government, whether state or federal government, is trying to look for ways to address the issue of global climate change. It’s a coming together of two goals: you have the government trying to be more efficient, trying to use money more wisely, and you have people in the environmental community such as the people at EDF and other environmentalists who are trying to slow down global climate change. These two goals can work together. Business people want to save money; environmentalists want to slow down global climate change, and there is a way to achieve both, through programs like the Climate Corp fellows program.”
Elon: Why did you decide to obtain a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree and then pursue a law degree?
Davis: “I always had an interest in the law, but I felt that an MPA degree would probably better prepare me for law school and I wanted to blend policy and the law together. Law helps shape policy and policy can help shape law.”
Elon: How has Elon Law supported your study of law and policy?
Davis: “In analyzing some of the cases, often the professors will ask, ‘What is the purpose behind this law?’ That type of question gets me thinking critically about the type of policy that undergirds a specific law that we’re studying. Law school is not only about knowing the law, it’s also about knowing why the law is there and what the law is meant to accomplish.”
Elon: What has been most valuable about Elon Law’s Leadership Fellows program for you?
Davis: “The Leadership Fellows program, for me, is mostly about serving others, serving the community and being connected to other people who have become extraordinary leaders in their lifetime. Also, working with Elon undergraduate students through our annual Leadership Academy has been very beneficial. They are very intelligent and very motivated young people. The Leadership Academy is not something where we as law students are just trying to feed a bunch of information to undergraduates. They are very engaging. That, for me, was a very positive sign to see young people involved in their communities and young people who care about issues related to leadership.”
Elon: Tell us about your plans going forward.
Davis: “I envision myself doing something with environmental law and policy. I’m not sure exactly what that will be. I am keeping the door open to various possibilities. I don’t try to limit myself to one particular thing.”
Information about Tyrone Davis from the Office of the White House:
“Tyrone Davis, from Winston-Salem, N.C., has been legally blind since the age of nine. Despite his vision loss, he ran cross-country and track in high school, and received a political science degree and Masters of Public Administration from North Carolina State University. He developed an interest in environmental issues during his time as an undergraduate, which led to a fellowship with the Environmental Defense Fund in 2010, placing him at Elizabeth City State University, a historically black university. His recommendations showed the school how to achieve savings of more than $31,000 a year, resulting in nearly 200 metric tons of carbon emissions reductions annually. Now in his third year at Elon University School of Law, Tyrone hopes to use his skills to benefit the environment and make communities safer.”
Information about Tyrone Davis from Elon University School of Law:
Tyrone Davis is a member of the Class of 2014 and a Leadership Fellow at Elon University School of Law. In the summer of 2012, after his first year of law school, Davis worked at Disability Rights of North Carolina in Raleigh, N.C., through a stipend-supported externship as part of his Elon Law Leadership Fellows experience. The following summer, Davis worked at Legal Aid of North Carolina in Greensboro, N.C., focusing on disability law and Medicaid. For his third-year Leadership Fellows capstone project at Elon Law, Davis wrote a policy and legal manual for the North Carolina Youth Leadership Forum, a Raleigh-based program that develops leadership and advocacy skills in young people of North Carolina with disabilities. During Elon Law's 2014 winter term, Davis traveled to China, including Shanghai and Hong Kong, through an international business course offered jointly by Elon Law and the Martha & Spencer Love School of Business at Elon University. In the course, law and business students engage lawyers and executives from a variety of law firms and corporations operating in some of the world’s most rapidly expanding markets.
A graduate of North Carolina State University with a Bachelor of Arts (2007) and a Master of Public Administration (2009), Davis majored in political science as an undergraduate and concentrated in environmental and energy policy in graduate school. He has served as Sustainability Coordinator for Elizabeth City State University, Climate Corps fellow with the Environmental Defense Fund and as an intern with the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center/Upper Coastal Plain Council of Governments and the Durham Mediation Center. His collegiate activities included membership in the NC State University political science club and the National Society of Black Engineers, as well as participation in research projects on waste management and light emission from nuclear reactors. Davis is the recipient of the NC State Chancellor’s Leadership Award (2001), the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Essay Scholarship (2001), the inter-institutional Public Administration Scholarship (2008) and several other scholarships. He participated in the North Carolina Desert Conference of Shrine Temples and Courts from 2001 to 2004.
Davis was one of several guests to join First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, at the 2014 State of the Union Address on Jan. 28, 2014. Learn more about First Lady Michelle Obama's guests at the 2014 State of the Union Address here.