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The Power of Presence: Forging a Shared Legacy to Fight for Justice

When the Honorable Gerald Bruce Lee (WCL 1976) graduated from American University in 1973, he planned to be a journalist. Then he learned about law school, and the potential to “impact society and make a difference in the lives of others” inspired him to change course. After several years of teaching high school, Edna Ruth Vincent (WCL 1989) made a similar decision, which led to a fulfilling law career—and her husband.

“The Washington College of Law faculty taught us to be concerned about justice and social responsibility and how to be impactful through the law,” said Judge Lee.

During his time at WCL, Judge Lee interned at area law firms. His first job was clerking for Gwendolyn Jo Carlberg (WCL 1966) in Alexandria, Virginia. He went on to be a trial lawyer for 15 years before being elected on his third try as a state judge for the Fairfax Circuity Court in 1992. In 1998, he was unanimously confirmed as a U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Virginia, where he served for two decades.

Vincent co-founded a boutique firm in 2002 and was featured in Washingtonian Magazine’s Top Lawyers. A family attorney, she came to appreciate how the law is applicable to every aspect of life—and how a new set of facts may allow for a more malleable approach to it. She was in the courtroom, “fighting whatever battle her clients were facing,” until retiring in 2017.

“American University changed my life,” affirmed Judge Lee. Notably, it is where he and Vincent began dating during her final semester at WCL. Knowing his dedication to uplifting others might be a marital burden, he asked her, “Can you go the distance?” Drawn to his “heart for people, commitment to service and fight for justice,” Vincent readily said “yes.”

For more than three decades, they have shared this commitment. In addition to their sustained philanthropy to WCL, they also host reunions with former law clerks and interns. In 25 years, Judge Lee estimates that he trained 150 interns, with a third becoming judicial law clerks. He credits the “power of presence,” saying the time and effort spent mentoring young lawyers to succeed will pay off as they collectively change the world for the better.

“My time at WCL opened so many doors, and its lasting impact spans three generations, including our son and grandson,” Judge Lee reflected. “I have a real desire to give back, empower others, and shape the next generation to work for justice and social responsibility.” And give back, they do.

In 2010, Judge Lee became a Trustee, helping to oversee academic affairs, campus life, and the stewardship of AU’s funds. For 23 years, he served on the WCL Dean’s Advisory Council. “It’s what I love—alumni supporting the dean and faculty, bringing ideas and real-life applications from our experience to share with students.” He also remains involved with the WCL Black Alumni Association and AU’s Black Alumni Alliance.

“I think that each of us as alumni have an opportunity to seed the ground for the next generation,” said Judge Lee, who sees incremental online giving as the key to impactful philanthropy. “We give so that the next generation may have the opportunities we did not—scholarships, competitions, clerkships.”

“Law school is life changing,” Vincent asserted. “It completely transformed the trajectory of my life, mobility, and autonomy. With my degree came the ability to make a difference.” Together, they are changing lives and forging a legacy that will live on through the good work of generations to come.

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