Journal of Leadership and the Law

Spotlight on Tyrone Davis L'14:
Honored Attendee at the 2014 Presidential State of the Union Address

Elon Law alumnus Tyrone Davis with President Barack ObamaBy Janean L. Bryant L’15

>> Photo by Pete Souza courtesy of The White House

On January 28, 2014, Tyrone Davis L’14, was honored at the 2014 Presidential State of the Union Address in Washington D.C. Mr. Davis was invited to attend the event as one of only twenty-four honorees that were chosen by First Lady Michelle Obama, based on their various noteworthy initiatives across the country. Mr. Davis graduated from Elon University School of Law in 2014, he was a member of the Leadership Fellows Program, and Mr. Davis is also legally blind. As an Editor on Elon Law School’s Journal of Leadership and the Law, I conducted an interview with Mr. Davis where he shared his experience at the State of the Union Address. During the interview, Mr. Davis explained the initiatives he was involved in that opened the door for his State of the Union Address invitation and what leadership skills he used to create these successful initiatives.

Elon Law student Tyrone Davis with First Lady Michelle Obama and guest<< Photo by Lawrence Jackson courtesy of The White House

During Mr. Davis’ interview, Mr. Davis explained that after he graduated with his Masters of Public Administration from North Carolina State University in December 2009 and was selected for the Climate Core Fellows Program in 2010. The program is a branch of the U.S. Environmental Defense Fund (“EDF”), where Mr. Davis traveled to New York for training on energy efficiency. After completing his training, Mr. Davis returned to North Carolina to work at Elizabeth City State University where he established goals for the university to reduce energy consumption. The EDF required Mr. Davis to provide a complete analysis of how Elizabeth State University planned to reduce its energy emissions.

President Barack Obama, in conjunction with the Environmental Defense Fund and The Environmental Quality Counsel, began looking for individuals and non-profit organizations that were working toward reducing carbon emissions and working toward the initiatives and goals of the EDF. Mr. Davis explained he was not aware that the Environmental Quality Counsel was looking to highlight initiatives at the local level. Mr. Davis was surprised when he received a phone call from the White House asking about details of his initiative as a Climate Core Fellow and then inviting him to attend the State of the Union Address. Mr. Davis stated, “They called me [on a] Friday night to invite me to the White House. As the person on the other end of the phone was talking, I knew she was getting ready to ask me to go to the White House; it felt like forever to get those words out, and I wanted to say ‘Yes, of course!’”

On the night of the Presidential State of the Union Address, Mr. Davis had an opportunity to meet President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House. Mr. Davis was able to talk with the First Lady for a few minutes prior to arriving at the State of the Union. Mr. Davis described the First Lady as having a “warm personality and a sense humor.”

During Mr. Davis’ interview, I asked what the common leadership traits were of the honorees at the State of the Union Address. Mr. Davis stated,

“…[T]hey had drive; they were able to identify problems that needed to be solved. If something unexpected happened, they were able to make an adjustment… [a lot of the honorees] knew the problems in [their] community and [they had] the drive and ambition to do what they could to solve the problems. Even as one person, doing your part to solve a problem or achieve a goal is all that you want to do and accomplish…”

Mr. Davis was also asked to share his thoughts about the importance of Elon Law’s Leadership Fellows Program, to which he stated the following:

“… Being able to work with other leaders. Leaving law school and getting a job, there will be a number of other leaders that you will be working with to define problems, and you are going to need to come together with other leaders. A leader is not always someone that gets up in the front of the room. My leadership style is to collaborate with other leaders to find a common goal… when you leave law school and you see a problem in your community or at your job and you need to solve a problem, you have been through the experience of having to collaborate with other leaders.”

Lastly, Mr. Davis was asked how Elon Law School prepared him to for leadership roles in the professional world.  To become a great leader, he responded:

“…There are opportunities here to develop your leadership skills. Practice identifying issues and practice ways of solving issues… It is important to realize what platform you have in this school, in terms of helping you practice your leadership skills and develop your leadership skills…Basically, [with] this platform of Elon and other organizations you have the ability to reach out, and that should be encouraging in and of itself. You’re not trying to do something by yourself.”