During the summer he spent as an undergraduate intern at University of Richmond Downtown, William Stanton, ’09 and L’12, crossed the street every lunch hour and entered the federal district courthouse named after his great uncle, Robert R. Merhige, Jr., L’42. There, he sat in criminal court, watching one young person after another be convicted of dealing drugs and sentenced to years in jail.

Back at his internship, he researched educational opportunities for students in Richmond’s K–12 public schools as part of ongoing efforts by the Richmond Families Initiative. His findings — that city students were much more likely than suburban students to be kicked out of school or get in fights — frustrated him, especially as he watched many products of these schools get put away in prison.

Another fact that struck him was the high percentage of non-white students in city schools, a virtual opposite of the 80 percent white population in surrounding suburban public schools.

“It was curious to be looking at this courthouse named after [Spottswood W. Robinson III and Robert R. Merhige, Jr., who argued in favor of and ordered desegregation of Virginia schools, respectively], while researching the current state of schools — they are just as segregated now as they were then, if not more,” he says.

Those frustrations evolved into a personal interest in criminal law and Stanton applied to the University’s School of Law the following fall. He was accepted to the prestigious John Marshall Scholars program — funny, he says, for someone who was not admitted to Richmond the first time he applied as an undergraduate.

After graduating from Midlothian High School, Stanton traveled around the country skateboarding, then started attending John Tyler Community College. “I went to school to see if I liked it,” he says.

And he did. After two years, he transferred to the University of Richmond, enrolling in the Jepson School of Leadership Studies.

“When I looked at all the possible majors, leadership studies met what I was most interested in,” he says. “Jepson puts a big focus on getting out in the world and changing things and on advocating for ethical change.”

As an undergraduate, he sought out research opportunities with faculty, in order to “learn how to organize my thoughts better,” he says. One of his papers, on Google’s business practices in China, was published in Dr. Joanne Ciulla’s book, "Honest Work: A Business Ethics Reader," which is taught in top business schools throughout the country.

Stanton says his leadership courses prepared him for success in oral advocacy. In his first year in law school, he shined the most in the courtroom, coming in second place in the Barnett Moot Court competition. He also represented the School of Law in the Texas Young Lawyers National Trial Advocacy competition against teams of third-year law students.

“I like the competitions a lot — you get to be creative, think on your feet, and engage your mind,” he says. “Leadership really prepared me for this, with its emphasis on public speaking and focus on group dynamics and social psychology.”

Stanton will use those skills in his next two years in law school, particularly when Richmond hosts the National Trial Advocacy competition in 2011.

After that, he hopes to practice law in Richmond — a city that he loves, but also where “drug laws are overtly racist,” he says. “I’d like to be part of that fight. It seems like as good a place as any to mount that defense.”