Ronisha Parker ’13 is in her final year of study at Howard University School of Law, in Washington, D.C. This past summer, she found out that she’d been offered a position as a first-year associate at one of the largest law firms in Atlanta, Georgia, where she’ll be practicing real estate law. Even though she’ll probably be working long hours at the firm, she’s also looking forward to doing as much pro bono work as she can. “I came to law school with the expectation that I wanted to help people and I wanted to give back,” she said. “And I think a lot of those passions and my desire to give back started at Holy Names.”
Parker has long been a high achiever. When she was a student at College Preparatory & Architecture Academy (part of Oakland’s Fremont High School), she dedicated herself to being an active member of the school community. “I was very involved in my school’s extracurricular activities and had several leadership roles—I wanted to be involved in everything,” she said. “As a result, I put volunteering, student government, and other nonacademic activities before my classes.”
During the summer before her senior year of high school, Parker attended a leadership program at a Bay Area college. She received some surprising advice from one of the college’s counselors. “I was told I should go to community college, pick up a trade, and informed that I definitely would not qualify for scholarships,” Parker said. “I wasn’t informed of the CalGrant, Pell Grant, student loans, or other means of financial assistance I could seek." Parker disregarded the advice she'd received from that counselor. "Needless to say, I went straight to undergrad—with scholarships—and did quite well,” she said.
After her first semester at another institution, Parker transferred to HNU. She had become acquainted with the University by way of her high school graduation ceremony—which was held in the Valley Center for the Performing Arts—and she liked what she learned about HNU. “The background of the school, the social justice mission, it was exactly what I was looking for, it was perfect,” she said. “And HNU admissions saw my potential and led me to where I am now.”
At HNU, Parker found—as she put it—“a wide community of social engineers with a passion and dedication to making a difference both locally and globally.” She attributes her success at the University to the support of professors, peers, and others. “I learned balance. I had great professors like Sister Chris [Patrinos] who refused to let me turn in a mediocre essay because she saw my full potential. I had great administrators like Heather French who introduced me to great leadership conferences to further develop my interpersonal skills. I had a close-knit group of colleagues who lived on and off campus who I could bounce ideas off of, compare notes with, and essentially collaborate in a seamless way that may not be as easy at other universities.”
Like many other recent HNU alumni, Parker sees the University’s strengths in its community and in the opportunities that it gives to students. “HNU helped me become the well-rounded individual that I needed to become for law school and life outside of academia. The beauty of a small liberal arts college is that the experience isn’t just about academics. Yes, your ultimate goal is a BA, BS, MA, etc. But at HNU there are endless opportunities available to you and there are people rooting for you, waiting for you to knock on their door and discuss your desire to start this new student organization, your desire to plan a service trip, or your desire to make a contribution to Oakland, California, the United States, or the world,” she said.
In Parker’s view, the skills that students learn at HNU can help them throughout their lives, both personally and professionally. “When you’re looking for employment, employers may go through hundreds of applications of people with the same academic qualifications,” she said. “What generally sets these individuals apart is what they’ve done outside the four corners of their textbooks. HNU prepares you to meet those initial qualifications with the degree. But HNU also goes further in preparing you. I learned the ultimate skills of organization, balance, public relations, and confidence. I’m not sure I would be who I am today had I not gone to HNU.”
Sr. Chris Patrinos
When asked to name the person who most influenced her HNU experience, Parker does not hesitate to make special mention of Sr. Chris Patrinos, associate professor of political science. “She [Sr. Chris] is GOD SENT,” she said. “I will never forget the moment I came to her office because she gave me a B on a paper and I was worried it would have a detrimental impact of my final grade. I complained about how I thought it was a good paper and she responded with something along the lines of, ‘For someone else, it’s a good paper. But for you, it’s crap. You can do better. I want to see you do better. I expect when you turn in that final paper it will be better.’ After that, I dedicated my undergraduate experience to ‘doing better.’ I made sure that all of my work exceeded my expectations, just so it could meet hers.” She adds later that, “I could call Sr. Chris today and ask for a recommendation, or tell her I need advice on such and such, and she will sit down and talk to me. She’ll provide some sound and helpful advice.”
It was Sr. Chris who helped Parker with her journey to law school, by telling her about the pre-law program that HNU offers. “Sr. Chris gave me a lot of the resources that I needed to prepare for professional school, because I knew I wanted to go further than just undergrad,” Parker said. “I think that’s exactly where the stronger passion for law school and developing my social justice mission, personally, started.”
Reflecting on HNU
Parker offers an insightful response when asked to reflect on HNU. “In general, I think HNU is one of the few schools, at least in California, where it feels like a home. There are very few schools where you can just go and talk to a professor about anything,” she said. “Or where you feel like anyone you talk to wants to see you succeed. At HNU, there are a lot of people, especially professors, faculty, and staff who actually care about the students. There are a lot of people who care. It’s a beautiful thing to see.”
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Parker’s path from high school student to JD candidate has been due, in large part, to her self-belief and determination; it’s not surprising, then, that her advice to HNU students counsels them to likewise have confidence in themselves. “Don’t be afraid to get involved,” she said. “Take advantage of every opportunity available to you. You don’t have to be Pacific Islander to join the student organization. You don’t have to have four years of high school leadership experience to be freshman class president. All you need is initiative. Accept your full potential and go after what you want, knowing that if and when you stumble, there are many people who are there to help you back up. Success is a journey and yours is just beginning.”