Sarah Boyce '07 resisted the idea of coming to Davidson at first. Both parents, a grandfather, an uncle, two aunts and a host of cousins had preceded her, including a current professor. Maybe she'd try something different.
Then, she attended July Experience.
"Here I was at this kind of nerdy academic camp in the summertime, when most teenagers are at the pool or the beach," she recalled. The self-selecting population of peers she found on campus ended up suiting her just fine. "I fell in love with the campus and the professors and the type of people that it seemed would be at Davidson with me."
As a senior English major with a semester in Edinburgh, Scotland, under her belt-"No one wants to give up a semester at Davidson unless they're really sure they can expect something great in return!"-she was looking hard at law school.
"I had this abstract understanding of injustice, but I felt like I had lived a very privileged, somewhat myopic, life," she said.
So, seeking a broader base of personal experience, the Belmont, N.C., native became a Teach for America middle-school teacher in Prince George's County, Md.
"I went from Davidson, which was a very intellectually challenging environment, to an environment that was more mentally and emotionally challenging," she said. "But I loved it. Seventh-graders have no filters, so they're hilarious. And they're still malleable enough for you to make a real difference."
After two years with Teach for America, she was ready to enroll at Duke Law School.
"One thing that I learned quickly is that I really like appellate law," she said. "It evokes everything I loved about being an English major at Davidson-from the brief writing to the oral advocacy. I love thinking about how to make the most compelling argument I possibly can in 30 or 40 pages. And Davidson's emphasis on being a good reader and a good writer gave me a strong foundation."
After law school, where she served as editor-in-chief of the law review, Boyce clerked for Judge Jeffrey Sutton on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
"He's a very strong writer, with a very distinct writing style, a very humble writing style," Boyce said. "He doesn't buy into the notion that legal writing is more impressive when it's unclear. He helped me learn how to cut through the morass and get to the point. Good legal writing is accessible to anyone, not just lawyers," she noted. "The ideal would be if Americans could read an opinion from any court, think about it, and decide for themselves whether it seems just."
Today as a Bristow Fellow, she works at a "dream job" in the Office of the Solicitor General, representing the executive branch in federal courts of appeals and the Supreme Court. And in 2015, she will clerk for retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Boyce's strong track record and mentorships opened the door for that opportunity.
"I had such a blast getting to know her," Boyce said of the hour-long interview. "At the end, I felt lucky just to have spent an hour with her, and that was a great takeaway."
But when it came time to open the follow-up letter one Friday afternoon in September, she hesitated. On her way out the door for a wedding, Boyce recalled she was leery of bad news. She had expected that any good news would come via telephone, not the mail. Finally, she opened the letter.
"I probably read it five times before I fully understood it!" she said.
O'Connor herself has been widely quoted as saying, "I don't know that there are any shortcuts to doing a good job."
Boyce will be ready.