Gergen Award winner praised for integrity and authenticity

Anna Kathryn Barnes received Elon University School of Law’s top honor for new graduates when she was named recipient of the David Gergen Award for Leadership & Professionalism at Commencement for the Class of 2019.

She witnessed as a teacher the institutional barriers that harm a child’s chances for academic success. She likewise observed how the juvenile justice system can diminish a young person’s sense of self-worth.

Anna Kathryn Barnes would soon enroll at Elon University School of Law with aspirations of helping to advance civil rights, perhaps forging a career focused on education law. Despite the rigors of law school, she never lost interest in mentoring others, developing a reputation among classmates for her “welcoming and refreshingly blunt-but-kind spirit.”

That reputation for advocacy received lavish praise on Saturday when Barnes was honored with the David Gergen Award for Leadership & Professionalism at Commencement for Elon Law’s Class of 2019.

Recipients of the annual award are nominated by their peers, professors, or staff. A faculty and staff committee evaluates nominees based on law school activities that represent the twin principles of leadership and professionalism.

The Elon Law award is named in honor of David Gergen, whose professional life and contributions have embodied the highest levels of selfless leadership and service. Gergen has served as adviser to four United States presidents. He is the founding director of the Center for Public Leadership and Professor of Public Service at the Harvard Kennedy School, one of the country’s preeminent political commentators, and chair of Elon Law’s Board of Advisors.

“I am incredibly humbled to have been recognized with the Gergen Award,” Barnes said. “It is a great honor to be selected among an impressive group of Elon Law graduates, who have contributed significantly to my learning and who also have demonstrated sound leadership. I am especially honored to be recognized by the Elon Law faculty and staff, without whom I would not have received the excellent legal education that I am privileged to carry with me as I begin my legal career.

“Elon Law provided me with the opportunity to be guided by professors like Professor Patricia Perkins, who has been a great mentor to me and who continually seeks to challenge her students to become thoughtful and pioneering leaders, as David Gergen has been. I seek to use my Elon Law legal education and the many lessons I have learned during my time in law school to serve the community as a member of the legal profession.”

A former Teach for America educator in North Carolina’s Guilford County, Barnes compiled an extensive list of activities and professional achievements at Elon Law, from volunteering as a guardian ad litem to serving as an Elon Law Review editor to assisting professors as both a teaching and research assistant.

The Advocacy Fellow completed her residency-in-practice with Judge Lucy Inman of the North Carolina Court of Appeals, traveled to South Africa with the Fall 2018 “Prisoners’ Rights” course led by Perkins, and participated in the constitutional law appellate advocacy clinic.

She also served as a 2018 NAACP Kellogg’s Summer Law Fellow in Baltimore, focusing her work on legal issues involving barriers to access in education and other civil rights matters. For her Advocacy Fellows externship a year later at Mehri & Skalet, PLLC, in Washington, her assignments were in the realm of employment discrimination.

“Nominators of this year’s recipient celebrated her skill and passion for advocacy, her sound judgement and work ethic, and her willingness to mentor other students,” Associate Dean Wendy Scott said of Barnes before announcing her selection at Commencement. “This year’s recipient has exhibited leadership and service throughout her time at Elon Law and in the broader community in a myriad of ways.”

Scott noted that from the time Barnes dedicated to mentoring first- and second-year students to her work advocating for children and sexual assault victims, her reputation as a committed leader impressed many of her professors and peers.

“‘The integrity she exemplifies through her personal and professional experiences encourages others to do the same,”’ Scott quoted from one of the nominations. “‘I have no doubt she will continue to work with integrity as an attorney.’”

About Elon Law:

Elon University School of Law in Greensboro, North Carolina, is the preeminent school for engaged and experiential learning in law. With a focus on learning by doing, it integrates traditional classroom instruction with course-connected, full-time residencies-in-practice in a logically sequenced program of transformational professional preparation. Elon Law’s innovative approach is accomplished in 2.5 years, which provides distinctive value by lowering tuition and permitting graduates early entry into their legal careers.