Since his elementary school days, Quinton D. Lucas '09 has been fascinated by politics and current events. He recalls watching "This Week" with David Brinkley regularly as a child, and looking up to political figures in his native Midwest, including the first female governor of Kansas, Joan Finney, and former Kansas Senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker. Admiration of his state's leading female political figures was not surprising for Lucas, who grew up with his single mother and two older sisters. However, it also signified a passion for politics and home that would stay with Lucas as life took him beyond the Midwest.
When he was eight, Lucas and his family moved back to Kansas City after five years in the small city of Hutchinson, Kansas. "At that point, Kansas City seemed like the biggest place in the world," Lucas recalled. His family returned at the high point of the Kansas City School District's desegregation litigation, when the city public schools were hemorrhaging students. Concerned with the state of the schools and wanting her son to go to a small school like those in Hutchinson, Lucas's mother decided to look for another option. She settled on the Barstow School, which awarded Lucas a generous partial scholarship. Although the family had little money, his mother supplemented the rest to secure Lucas's education. Reflecting upon his early years, Lucas said that "my mother's work is a large part of why I'm in front of you today."
Initially the only Black student in his class, Lucas admitted that Barstow "was quite an adjustment. Where I lived and where I went to school seemed like completely different worlds." But the adjustment didn't take long. His mother dropped him off for school an hour early every day and during this time he developed a love for reading the daily news and discussing sports, both of which he still enjoys. He also formed lifelong friendships with people ranging from janitors to principals, as well as students both inside and outside of his classes. These relationships proved to be so enduring that by the time he was in high school, he was elected student body president —twice. Although he hadn't considered leaving the Kansas City area for college, a guidance counselor pushed him to look further. Ultimately, he did not venture too far, choosing to attend Washington University in St. Louis which was four hours away from Kansas City.
After a short foray into the sciences in college, Lucas returned to his first love—politics. He decided to major in political science, appreciating both the statistical and historical aspects of the discipline. He also adapted to yet another cultural environment. "I had never gone to school with anyone who was from outside the Midwest prior to college," Lucas remembered. "So, I was accustomed to certain regional mannerisms, such as always saying hello, even to complete strangers."
During his sophomore year, Lucas applied for a position on the university's Committee on Academic Integrity. He was interviewed for the job by a dean and a fellow student "who had a 4.0 GPA and was a concert violinist. I thought, 'No way I'm ever gonna get this,'" Lucas joked. But he did. "It brought me a new test—making difficult decisions within a group of very thoughtful and intelligent people," he said. His experience on that committee started him thinking about law school.
Before undertaking law school, Lucas had other avenues to explore. In his senior year, he spent a semester in Cape Town, South Africa. There, he met students who experienced the pain of apartheid firsthand. Through conversations and interactions with the people of South Africa, Lucas found himself reconsidering and reconfiguring things he thought he knew, particularly his opinions regarding the similarities between Blacks in the United States and South Africa.
While in college, Lucas remained committed to home, and continued to pursue his passion for local politics. In addition to being awarded a public affairs internship in the Kansas City Mayor's office, Lucas wrote a paper about values politics, which was based on a congressional primary in Kansas City.
The encouragement of a politics professor convinced Lucas to try to have the article published.
It appeared in the Columbia University Journal of Politics and Society. "I thought how amazing it was that I could write about home and other people actually liked it," said Lucas.
Expanding his political experience statewide, Lucas worked on a Missouri state senate race in St. Louis, during his postgraduation summer. Although it was an exciting, yet intense, experience, Lucas found himself wanting some time away from politics and looked forward to his next adventure—law school.
When applying to law school, Lucas wanted to try something beyond the Midwest. Cornell was close to New York City, but as a Midwesterner, he felt comfortable in Ithaca. "Cornell was relaxing and refreshing after campaigning," he said. "I had a chance to get to know my fellow students, and it was comforting to know that we were all going through the same experience. I had an absolutely fantastic group of people to share law school with."
Lucas also had a wonderful group of first year professors, who, he said "made the puzzle fit together." They included Sheri Lynn Johnson, Michael Heise, Jeffrey J. Rachlinski, and Winnie Taylor. "You learn how to read efficiently and how to express yourself effectively," recalled Lucas. "You also learn that you're smart, and that you're really here for a reason." The Law School also provides close relationships with both faculty and students that Lucas will value for the rest of his life.
During law school, Lucas participated in a number of the school's clinical offerings. In his third year, he was an extern in the Office of the United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York in Syracuse. While there, Lucas worked on matters in the civil and criminal divisions, and enjoyed seeing federal prosecutors at work. Lucas recalled that "Before my work there, I can't say I had a full appreciation of the breadth of work done each day in a United States Attorney's Office, and the level of devotion shown to our local communities by every Assistant United States Attorney."
Prior to this, Lucas enrolled in the Death Penalty Clinic and had the opportunity to experience the defense side of the criminal justice system. For this clinic, Lucas's efforts were concentrated on developing and preparing clemency materials relating to a Georgia murder case. The basis for clemency centered on the defendant's claim that his attorney had made racist comments which ultimately compromised the integrity of his trial and defense. Lucas, working for and along with the Cornell Death Penalty Project, labored on the condemned man's final appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court and the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles. While their efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, Lucas said, reflectively, "The case has stuck with me. I think it demonstrates that there continues to be a problem with race in parts of our criminal justice system that we're simply ignoring— to our detriment."
Despite his experience on both sides of the criminal justice system, Lucas plans to start his legal career with the law firm WilmerHale. Lucas recalled, "I didn't know what to expect from a firm as large as WilmerHale, where I was a summer associate, but I ended up loving the practice and both Boston and Washington, D.C." During the time he worked at WilmerHale, Lucas found corporate law intellectually stimulating and enjoyed having the resources needed to develop and prepare cases. After graduation, he plans to join WilmerHale in its Washington, D.C., office.
Politics may still be in his future as well, Lucas says. "I'd like to get a few years under my belt as a practicing attorney first. Returning to politics is still a possibility at some point in life." After all, he concludes, "This life has already taken me many places where I didn't think I'd ever be."