A Vincentian has been elected the 132nd president of the Harvard Law Review (The Review).
Last Sunday, Michael Thomas Jr, who was born in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), became the fourth black person to lead the oldest and most prestigious student-edited law review in the United States.
He is the first of three children born to Francelia Bute-Thomas, formerly of Lowmans Hill and Michael Thomas formerly of Mustique; and the grandson of Eardley and Yvonne Bute of Lowmans Hill.
Thomas, 27, follows in the footsteps of Barack Obama, the former president of the United States, who, in 1990, became the first black person to be elected president of The Review since the journal was first published in 1887.
The new president, who is in his second year at Harvard Law School, told SEARCHLIGHT on Tuesday that when current president of The Review Imelme Umana informed him that he had been elected, he was surprised.
âI was incredibly surprised and deeply humbled. Itâs really an honour that my peers have trusted me with the responsibility.â
Thomas said the election occurs over the course of a weekend and the 90 or so members of The Review vote.
âThe candidates were a group of incredibly talented and
capable editors and colleagues in my class. There was no formal campaign, but the body evaluates your entire record as an editor on the law review,â he explained.
Having graduated magna cum laude in 2012 from Princeton University with a degree in Sociology, Thomas entered Harvard Law School in 2016 and is expected to graduate in 2019. While at Princeton, he was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Research Fellow.
During his tenure as president of The Review, Thomas will give priority to publishing as many diverse and emerging authors as possible.
âA lot of work goes into the production of the journal, which is the most circulated and highly cited legal journal in the world. We release an issue every month. Following in my predecessorâs footsteps, the goal is always to produce top-tier and accessible legal scholarship. Itâs also a priority to publish as many diverse and emerging authors as we can.â
Thomas takes over as president from Imelme Umana, the first black woman to hold what is considered the highest student position at Harvard Law School. Thomas is the third black male president, the second being David Panton.
Law reviews, which are edited by students, play a double role at law schools, providing a chance for students to improve their legal research and writing, and at the same time offering judges and scholars a forum for new legal arguments.
The president of The Review usually goes on to serve as a clerk for a federal judge, but Thomas told SEARCHLIGHT that prior to being elected, he had already been offered two federal clerkships. In 2019, he will clerk with Colleen McMahon, Chief Judge of the Southern District of New York, and in 2020, he will clerk with Barrington Parker, Jr of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Although Thomas is interested in government and policy, having previously worked in the office of the mayor of New York City, he is not sure if a career in representative politics is in his future.
âMy plan is to take everything one step at a time,â the Brooklyn, New York resident said.
He said as an immigrant, he has a unique perspective on the law, particularly considering recent anti-immigrant sentiments expressed by the current President of the United States.
âThis perspective has taught me that working hard is important, but that opportunity and circumstance are equally so.â
And although he was only two when he migrated to the United States with his parents, Thomas has maintained close links with his homeland.
âOur family made it a point to stay connected to St Vincent, so I consider it another home. Other than returning every few years for Carnival, I was back in 2014 working on a project to harvest water from the fog on La SoufriÃ¨re.â
He said his accomplishments are the result of a team effort.
âA big part of why Iâve been able to achieve anything so far is that Iâve had a strong support system around me and people whoâve encouraged me along the way. Everyone has been supportive and it really does feel like a team effort.â
He advised young people to find their passions and pursue them.
âMy advice would be to find the things that excite you and continue to pursue them. One of the ways I did that was by talking to as many people as possible about their careers and the choices they made along the way. Finding and developing relationships with strong mentors is incredibly important.â