Standing Out as a Women’s College Graduate

on February 13 | in Homepage, President's Essay | by

When I heard Elysse Stolpe ’10 deliver this talk at an alumnae event in Charlottesville last spring, I knew I wanted to share it with a wider audience. This issue of Hollins magazine, which is devoted in large part to showing the benefits of attending a women’s college, seemed like the perfect time. In typical lawyer fashion, Elysse refers to this essay as her “three-point speech.” I think you’ll agree that she makes her logical argument even more convincing by adding wit and telling details from her own post-Hollins experience at the University of Virginia School of Law.

—President Nancy Oliver Gray

Elysse Stolpe

“My name is Elysse Stolpe, I’m from Gillette, Wyoming, and I graduated from Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia.” As at most orientations, introductions at the University of Virginia School of Law were a shuffle of easily forgettable information. But, aside from my status as a Wyoming resident, my educational provenance included a memorable detail: “Hollins is an all-women’s liberal arts college.” I was often met with an incredulous look or a polite “how interesting!”

Admittedly, it was nice finally to be known for something other than my status as a Wyomingite. At the time I did not fully realize that my distinction as a women’s college graduate would give me the tools to excel in law school and to set myself apart from my Ivy League adorned law school classmates. Hollins gave me a confident voice, a dedication to embodying female leadership, and the skills to deftly navigate the competitive legal job market.

By endowing women with a strong voice, Hollins prepares graduates to tackle future challenges, whether they be in the workforce or the graduate school classroom. No shrinking violets emerge from Hollins after four years. Small class sizes and a collegial atmosphere encourage student participation on a daily basis, and for me this preparation carried over to the law school classroom. While law school grades are generally based on one cumulative end of semester exam, Socratic method “cold calls” throughout the semester ensure that students stay on their toes and on top of the reading. The infamously intimidating cold calling refers to the common law school practice of professors randomly singling out students to answer questions or analyze nuanced legal hypotheticals on the spot. Successfully completing cold calls, or simply avoiding embarrassing yourself in front of your peers and professors, requires a confident verbal presence. Thankfully, the small class sizes and active classroom discussions at Hollins gave me plenty of time to hone my persuasion skills, allowing seamless transition to the Socratic rigors of the law school classroom.

I often tell people that one of the reasons I am most grateful for my women’s college education is that I expect female leadership, as opposed to being surprised by it. Nowhere was this outlook more apparent than during my first year at UVA, when the Student Bar Association elected its first all-female executive cabinet. Students were shocked. The weekly student newspaper jokingly ran the headline “Weekly SBA Keg Now Becomes Weekly Wine and Cheese Tearfest,” and faculty marveled at the novelty of this unique and historic all-female “situation.”

Having spent four years at Hollins, where a woman de facto holds every student leadership position, I was somewhat less shocked by the notion that women are capable of running executive cabinets all by themselves. Hollins instilled in me great confidence in female leadership as well as a sense of duty to carry that mission forward. Over my three years at UVA, I served in leadership capacities in the Student Bar Association and the Public Service Center. Hollins taught me to lean into leadership roles in the face of adversity, instead of interpreting the disappointing response to the all-female cabinet election as a sign to back off.

For two weeks during the summer after their first year, rising second-year law students vie for the legal job that will launch their career. Instead of being an exercise in judging candidates’ substantive skills, the law firm interview circuit generally consists of an initial round of screener interviews where young associates from large city law firms size up law students based on the all important criteria of grades and “whether they would like to get a beer with you after work.” However, the interviewers from the Washington, D.C., office of McKenna Long & Aldridge took a different tack. Instead of grilling me on my softball skills and beer tastes, the interviewers immediately began the interview by asking me to tell them about a time I was on a dysfunctional team and how I handled the situation. Instead of being taken aback by the abrupt change in interviewing atmosphere, I was relieved. For this question, and for all their other substantive questions, I had multiple examples of Hollins experiences from student government, the riding program, and the Batten Leadership Institute. These teamwork and leadership stories allowed me to distinguish myself in the competitive legal hiring market as more than a GPA and class rank. My Hollins experiences demonstrated my abilities as a confident leader and competent team player and ultimately helped me secure my post-graduation job at McKenna Long & Aldridge in D.C.

I graduated from UVA last May and have since had time to reflect on these whirlwind three years of law school. I now deeply realize what I always knew to be true.

Who needs the Ivy League when you have a Hollins education?

Information about Hollins’ pre-law program ›

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