Blair Thompson received her B.A. from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland in 2007 and her J.D. from Drexel University School of Law in 2011. While in law school, Blair served as an editor of the Drexel Law Review. She graduated with academic honors, pro bono honors and the Clinical Legal Education Association’s Outstanding Clinical Student Award. After graduating, she served as judicial law clerk to the Honorable Robert B. Kershaw of the Circuit Court of Maryland for Baltimore City. Blair joined the OPD in 2012 as a “Richmond” attorney in Calvert County and later transferred to Baltimore City.
Drexel Fellowships Office (DFO): Can you tell me about your experience applying for the Fulbright?
Blair Thompson (BT): I had gone to one of Rona’s presentations about the Fulbright and she contacted me later on and suggested I apply for it because I had previous international experience. Law school is so regimented but applying for the Fulbright was a creative process – you had to come up with and pitch this project. It was hard for me because I hadn’t done that in a while, but Rona and Cindy were really supportive and they kept pulling ideas out of me. We did a lot of drafts and that helped a lot. I loved working on it. I also got to go to this interview at Drexel and meet with a bunch of professors, which was so much fun. After that I was waiting to hear back, and the first part when I found out I was a finalist was really exciting because your whole life could change!
DFO: What was it like to not get the Fulbright? How did you deal with that?
BT: It was hard. I was pretty bummed out for a while. It was challenging coming up with that plan – when I started researching for what I could do for my project, the child justice law had just passed. I wonder if maybe they wanted me to have a partner organization that was more focused on juvenile justice. I wish you got a reason why. Also, my personal statement was very personal and it was really hard for me to put that down and then get rejected. But I am really proud of what I wrote and even though I didn’t get the Fulbright I still feel like I accomplished something. For a while it was an ego bruise and now it’s just like, well, I did my best! So unfortunately I didn’t end up going back to South Africa, but I still want to go back one day whether it’s through Fulbright or on my own.
It was such a big life lesson that things will happen all the time that have no explanation and are not fair and you have to learn to keep going and not let it make you think you suck. It’s funny how the Fulbright ends up teaching you things like that.
DFO: What would your advice be to students who applied but didn’t get it?
BT: Any new project, start right away! It definitely helped me to have a backup plan, a secondary goal, and I definitely recommend that for people. I started finding the pros about staying in my city, in Baltimore. I spent a lot of time with my family and realized I would have missed them a lot if I had gone away. About six months later I got a job as a public defender which was what I really wanted. Focusing on other goals helped me get my mind off it and I started doing other things, fun things, new friendships. It was such a big life lesson that things will happen all the time that have no explanation and are not fair and you have to learn to keep going and not let it make you think you suck. It’s funny how the Fulbright ends up teaching you things like that. You can’t see how valuable that experience is until you’re much past it.
DFO: What have you been up to since you applied?
BT: I was working for a judge when I found out I didn’t get the Fulbright. A few months after that I got the public defender job and I started out in the rural area of Maryland and then I was able to transfer to Baltimore so I’ve been in the city for a little over a year and a half now. I found out last week that I got a promotion so I’m going to be moving up to jury trial in about a month.
DFO: Did skills acquired as a Fulbright applicant help you meet those opportunities?
BT: You definitely learn not to take it personally and not let it make you think less of yourself when you work really hard for something and you don’t get it. That’s been huge because as a public defender I have to put on trials all the time, and most of the time the defense loses. I do a lot of misdemeanors right now – drugs and fights, and it’s really easy to prove these cases so we lose these a lot even though we work really hard and we really care about our clients.
I know Drexel students have so many things that they’re working on all the time but there are so many opportunities in the world for people to take advantage of.
At the beginning it was rough and I thought, maybe I’m just not a good lawyer and I’m not made for this career, but you can’t think that way and let that stop you. Eventually when you keep going it builds your confidence so I’ve actually been doing better for my clients. Not getting the Fulbright helped me learn what I can handle.
DFO: Do you have advice for students who want to, but might be scared, to apply?
BT: I would tell them, they would regret it more if they don’t do it. There’s nothing worse than feeling, What if I had done it? So you might as well find out and if you don’t get it, you learn how strong you are. So your ego might get bruised, but it’s temporary. I know Drexel students have so many things that they’re working on all the time but there are so many opportunities in the world for people to take advantage of. Look at it as only one of millions of opportunities and they would only benefit from applying.
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