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Dean's Message to Stetson Alumni and Friends

Dear Friends,

In March 1865, only a month before his assassination, President Abraham Lincoln called on the nation to care for the families of those who had borne the horrific costs of the Civil War. The noble cause that President Lincoln addressed in 1865 is still relevant today. As we celebrate our nation’s Independence, let us remember our active duty military and veterans, and honor the sacrifices they made on our behalf.

Here at Stetson Law, we are working to fulfill President Lincoln’s charge by providing assistance to active military members and veterans through the Veterans Law Institute (VLI). The four components of the VLI are: (1) legal assistance with Department of Veterans Affairs claims and appeals through an on-campus clinic; (2) legal help for active duty military and veterans through the organization of pro bono resources in our community; (3) services to Stetson Law students; and (4) policy and outreach at the local and national levels 

Stetson Law has always been a friend to members of the military, veterans and their families. This past February, the VLI, in conjunction with the Center for Excellence in Elder Law, the St. Petersburg Bar Foundation and the Community Law Program, sponsored Wills for the Greatest Generation, a program through which low-income veterans and their spouses created simple wills and health care directives. Furthermore, the VLI continually partners with the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) to provide pro bono representation for veterans and active duty members of the armed services who are in need of guardianships. More information about the outstanding work of the VLI is detailed on the College of Law’s website at www.stetson.edu/law/veterans/.

The work of the VLI would not be possible without the generosity of many of Stetson Law’s most dedicated donors, particularly Judge Raphael “Ray” Steinhardt, for whom the VLI’s building is named. Judge Steinhardt’s generosity is just one of many acts of giving back. While still a student at Stetson Law, former Marine Javier Centonzio (J.D. ‘12, LL.M. in Elder Law ‘14) established a scholarship in honor of his friend and fallen comrade, Sgt. Jessie Davila. In his own words, Javier tells the story of his friend and his motivation to create this scholarship. 

Sgt. Jessie Davila was killed on February 20, 2006, while on mission in Baghdad, Iraq. His death left a huge void in the lives of all who knew him. For me, his sacrifice set in motion a plan I had discussed with him prior to deployment. My plan was to return from Iraq and pursue a law degree. I made a promise to Jessie that I would honor his sacrifice by following through with that plan and becoming an advocate committed to serving others. Jessie’s selfless sacrifice serves as a constant reminder to never take life for granted and to always charge forward when times are tough.

In May 2012, I kept my promise to Jessie by graduating from Stetson University College of Law. Through the generosity of others, I was able to attend Stetson on scholarship. During my time at Stetson I became very involved in the area of Veterans Law. I decided that I would serve others by being an advocate for veterans and helping them fight for their benefits.

The story doesn’t end there. My hope is that more veterans decide to pursue law degrees as a means to serve others. I vowed to never forget Jessie, and to tell everyone I knew about him and his dedication to serving others. My plan now is to raise $25,000 in order to endow a scholarship in his name at Stetson University College of Law so that his legacy endures long after I am gone.

The Sgt. Jessie Davila Memorial Scholarship will provide financial assistance to veterans who have deployed to a combat zone who are interested in pursuing a law degree My hope is to eventually offer a full-tuition scholarship to a qualifying veteran each year. I am so appreciative of the opportunities that I have had thanks to the generosity and kindness of others, and I hope that I can repay some of that by helping veterans who are interested in attending law school at Stetson. It is my belief that other veterans, similarly enabled, will also take it upon themselves to pay it forward.

More recently, the Frederick B. Karl scholarship for Veterans was established in 2012 at Stetson Law in honor of the late Justice Fred Karl. Justice Karl intended to establish this scholarship so other retired military members could use him as an example of how to transition from active military life to a life of service to the public. Justice Karl was a dedicated public servant, former Florida Supreme Court justice, member of the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate, and a dedicated community volunteer, serving numerous organizations, including our own Stetson University College of Law Board of Overseers. He served in the U.S. Army as a tank platoon leader during the Battle of the Bulge, and was awarded a Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart medal. Justice Karl graduated from Stetson Law in 1949 and enjoyed a long and illustrious career of public service, serving as a state representative, state senator, counsel, county administrator, county attorney, city attorney and hospital CEO. Over his career, he was counsel to the House Select Committee on Judicial Impeachment, chair of the Florida Supreme Court’s Committee on Attorney Discipline, and the Florida Senate’s special master on executive suspensions. In recognition of his monumental service to the Tampa Bay area, Hillsborough County named its 28-story county center for Karl. Justice Karl served Stetson as an overseer, guest lecturer, alumni award winner, commencement speaker, honorary degree recipient and member of the College of Law Hall of Fame. It is our hope that recipients of the Karl Scholarship follow in Justice Karl’s footsteps to be honest, ethical and idealistic, while also being successful attorneys and public servants.

There are many opportunities for you to support our student veterans, and I hope you will consider a gift to one of these fantastic scholarships in this season of gratitude to our heroic service men and women. Simply click GIVE here, and make your gift to veterans' initiatives at Stetson Law.

Finally, if you or your spouse is a veteran, we would very much appreciate you letting us know, so that we may add you to our honor roll of alumni who have served our country. For those of you who would like to attend, we will be hosting a day of celebration on November 10, 2014, to honor all of our students and alumni who are serving or have served our country in any branch of the military.

Best wishes for a happy and safe Fourth of July holiday. I hope that you will consider, as I surely will, President Lincoln’s invocation, “to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan.” Your gift to veteran’s scholarships at Stetson University College of Law will have a profound impact on the lives of those who have sacrificed the most for our freedom.

Christopher M. Pietruszkiewicz
Dean and Professor of Law

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