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Sixth Annual Oxholm Colloquium Honors Judge Karen Yvette Simmons

The Honorable Karen Yvette Simmons

November 08, 2021

Drexel University’s Kline School of Law hosted the Sixth Annual Oxholm Colloquium on Public Service on October 26. The Colloquium, which was held virtually, explored how careers in public service are varied and fulfilling.

“The idea is to find what interests you,” said keynote speaker the Honorable Karen Yvette Simmons, who has served in the Philadelphia Municipal Court since 2005. “Find what you are good at; find where there is a need; and be the best you, as a lawyer, that you can be [and] the best you, as a person, that you can be.”

Simmons, who began her legal career as an assistant public defender in the office of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, spoke about the variety of paths in public interest. “Your public service careers do not need to look like my career to be fulfilling. There are as many different public service legal agencies as there are people on this Zoom,” she said.

Simmons then talked about her early desire to attend law school and reflected on the barriers she faced along her career path, which led her from the public defender’s office to the bench. Simmons closed her discussion by offering attendees the following advice:

  1. Each of you are special, and it’s going to become a matter of urgency that you also see that special something in yourself. You need to always remember that, because it may not be that someone tells you just how special you are.
  2. You have to be a risk taker but an intelligent risk taker.
  3. Be disciplined about what you respond to. Not everyone deserves a response and not everything deserves an action.

During the colloquium, the eponymous Carl “Tobey” Oxholm III, the former senior vice president and general counsel for Drexel University who endowed the Oxholm fellowship, spoke about careers in public service, noting that “It’s a burden to care, but it is also an incredible blessing.” Oxholm also advised students: “[I]f you don't get a job in the public sector or public service, start volunteering from the moment you get out there.”

3L Kaitlyn Barlow, the 14th recipient of Oxholm Summer Fellowship, spoke about her experience in the fellowship, noting that winning it was one of the proudest moments in her law school career thus far and that working in the Philadelphia’s Office of the City Solicitor gave her substantive experience. “My biggest takeaway from this summer,” said Barlow, “was just the reassurance that the skills [that] I worked so hard on in the classroom showed up and were applicable in the real world of practicing law.”