Each year the Seattle University Alumni Association hosts the Alumni Awards, honoring six outstanding members of the Seattle University community who embody our Jesuit values, demonstrating leadership and service to others. Two law school graduates are included this year, honored for work on behalf of children living in areas of conflict and on behalf of immigrants and women.
The 32nd Annual Alumni Awards ceremony takes place May 5 and will kick off Seattle U's Grand Reunion Weekend.
Carolyn Ronis '03
Carolyn Ronis is changing the world. For this work, she is the recipient of the 2017 Seattle University Community Service Award.
Following high school Carolyn enlisted in the United States Air Force, where she trained the first groups of female navigators and then joined Air Force intelligence. Undeterred by a climate of sexism and hostility, she persevered and was awarded Outstanding Airman of the Year.
After her honorable discharge, Carolyn struggled for several years as a single mom of two small children before entering Seattle University. First in her family to graduate from college, she earned a philosophy degree and says she is grateful to the university for the gift of empowerment that put her on the road to self-discovery.
Encouraged by a Seattle U law alumna, she enrolled in the School of Law and worked part-time for the state Attorney General's office advocating on behalf of abused and neglected children. And she did all of this while caring for her children and her terminally ill mother.
Shortly after graduation, she moved to Washington, D.C. Her work reinforced a commitment to helping children. She was a pro bono lawyer for Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) and championed civil rights, immigration and campaign finance reform with the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. As counsel for Congressman Bobby Scott she worked on legislation and issues before the Judiciary and Education Committees such as criminal justice reform, the Voting Rights Act and the Youth Promise Act.
In 2014, Carolyn, now the mother of four, heard about the Chibok girls being kidnapped by the world's deadliest terror organization, Boko Haram. She felt compelled to act and established the International Coalition for the Eradication of Hunger and Abuse (ICEHA). The organization addresses the plight of children caught in areas devastated by war and extreme poverty. Combining safe sanctuary, critically needed basic services and programs to diagnose PTSD and administer emotional healing, Carolyn offers people hope. She believes that the emotional wounds of war must be healed in order to stop the perpetuation of violence from one generation to the next.
Carolyn partnered with elementary school children in Virginia to collect one ton of school supplies which she personally delivered to Northern Nigeria. "Carolyn traveled to Displaced Persons Settlements in conflict-affected areas under heavy threat from Boko Haram terror attacks to ensure that the much needed supplies ended up in the hands of the children who needed them," noted her award nominator, Robert Dunphy.
ICEHA offers empowerment through financial independence, literacy, scholarships, technical training, counseling, mentoring, and self- sufficiency for the individual as well as the community. ICEHA promotes entrepreneurship and self-employment. "It is a hand up, not a hand out," Carolyn notes, "a sustainable, preventive approach."
A stage four cancer survivor, Carolyn has dedicated herself to improving the lives of others. She reinvests much of her salary as ICEHA's director toward the future growth of that organization. Again, according to her nominator, "Carolyn's life is a testament to social service and how one person can affect such amazing change in the world. Her selfless pursuit of others is downright astonishing."
Alexandra Kennedy '08
Alexandra "Ally" Kennedy is the 2017 Outstanding Recent Alumna Award, recognized for her tireless advocacy on behalf of undocumented immigrants and her innovation in creating a national network to support immigration attorneys who are women and mothers.
A 2008 graduate of Seattle University's School of Law, Ally is the founding partner of Alexandra Kennedy Immigration Law, PLLC. The firm's goal is to keep families together through the use of the U.S. immigration system. In her practice, she helps victims of violence and domestic violence seek immigration relief and defends clients in immigration court who are facing deportation. Ally has brought cases before the Board of Immigration Appeals and made oral arguments before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. "Being a lawyer is more than a job," she says. "It is a calling."
While in law school, Ally secured a prestigious judicial externship with the Department of Justice's Seattle Immigration Court.
Ally worked with Seattle U Law's externship director to create the program. "I was privileged with a unique opportunity to see behind the scenes," Ally says, "to understand the judges' thought processes, what the Department of Homeland Security attorneys do and how they work and what kind of behavior judges want to see from private immigration attorneys."
Because of the ground work Ally laid, the internship has continued and Seattle U law students can now gain valuable experience working in the federal immigration courts. Ally has stayed involved at her alma mater through mentoring law students, offering internships in her firm, and remaining connected with other law alumni.
For Ally, an interest in law started at age 16 following a mission trip to Belize and Guatemala where she was exposed to real poverty for the first time.
"I decided I would do everything I could to fight for equality and give a voice to the voiceless," she says. "Fortunately, I have been able to find a way to do this by defending undocumented immigrants in the United States."
Her passion for immigration justice is only matched by her passion for being a mother. In 2015, Ally founded the national organization AMIGA Lawyers — also known as the Association of Mother Immigration Attorneys — designed to help mothers who are attorneys who needed support while "doing it all." She has created a virtual community where AMIGA members can discuss all areas of their lives and provide support, uplift and empower one another.
Each week, Ally blogs about how to build better businesses, create winning cases, and live balanced lives. She hosts monthly webinars and travels throughout the country to speak on these topics. In June 2016 she hosted the first conference for women immigration attorneys, called Women, Power and Money, and in February 2017 she hosted a women-only legal conference called Amiga Business Bootcamp.
In 2016, Ally was awarded the national Sam Williamson Mentor Award by the American Immigration Lawyers Association for her work with AMIGA — the youngest recipient ever.