Walking briskly into the lobby of Drinko Hall, Loren Simmons ’12 fits the profile of a typical law student: well-dressed, good posture, and a friendly smile. The 3L sat down and appeared to be at home within the halls of the Michael E. Moritz College of Law.
While certainly not the first student with a family legacy at Moritz, Simmons’ connection to the College is one of the most fascinating. His great-grandfather was the school’s first black graduate 100 years ago this spring. That milestone and the sense of coming full circle was not lost on Simmons and his family as a purple hood was placed over his head this May.
“The fact that I decided to apply in the year that I did, which led to the possibility of enrolling at Moritz 100 years after the year my great-grandfather enrolled, is just wild,” Simmons said, smiling and shaking his head.
As an undergraduate at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, Simmons knew he would consider a degree in law. However, his decision to pursue other opportunities and postpone law school for four years following graduation was what truly proved serendipitous.
After graduating from Wheaton in 2005 with a degree in international relations and Hispanic studies, Simmons was offered a job as an associate director in graduate admissions for the college. Knowing he eventually wanted to attend law school, he later accepted a position as a paralegal with the civil rights organization Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund in Atlanta, where he was living with his fiancee, Alexis.
While at the Law School Admission Council forum in Atlanta in 2009, Simmons introduced himself to Robert Solomon II ’88, assistant dean for admissions and financial aid at Moritz. Solomon remembers their first conversation well.
“Because he’s from California and he went to Wheaton, I was trying to make this connection of: ‘Why Ohio State?’ ” Solomon said. “He mentioned that his great-grandfather was the first African-American graduate of the law school, and that intrigued me.”
As an alumnus interested in history, Solomon returned to Columbus with an itch to research the story of Clarence Alexander Jones, a member of the Ohio State College of Law Class of 1912. Jones was a member of the debate team, the Debate and Oratory Council, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., and the Hunter Law Society. The 1912 yearbook referred to Jones as, “A worthy representative of his race and a diligent student of the law.”
Three black students were enrolled before Jones. Two earned certificates in law, and the third was not listed as a graduate. Solomon discovered Jones indeed was the first official black graduate of the College.
After graduation, Jones and his wife, Anya, moved to Los Angeles, where they raised three children and formed a tight network with the first black representatives in several fields, including the first black mayor, the first black police chief, and the first black California highway patrol officer on a motorcycle. Jones, remembered by family members as a proud, intelligent, and hard-working man, had a successful legal career until his death in 1948.
Though they never met, Jones had a significant impact on Simmons’ life. His first name is derived from Loren Miller, a former California Superior Court Justice who was influential in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s. He was one of Jones’ close friends.
“I was thinking it would be really neat if the great-grandson of the first African-American graduate matriculated here,” Solomon said. “(Simmons) was a great candidate notwithstanding that connection, so it was pretty easy to convince him to come once he was admitted.”
Three years later, Simmons said the decision is one of the best he’s ever made.
“I couldn’t be happier with my decision,” said the graduate-to-be, who is interested in practicing transactional, environmental, and corporate law. “I feel very connected with Ohio State, and I feel a very strong amount of pride in being here.”
Family members from both coasts converged on Columbusfor his graduation, including one of Jones’ two surviving daughters. The 93-year-old wanted to see her great-nephew receive his law degree from the same university as her father. “She is very excited,” Simmons said, “and I’m really excited to have her here.”
As he stood up to leave, Simmons looked around at the Moritz lobby and smiled.
“I have more pride for my affiliation with Ohio State than I’ve had for most other things,” he said. “I’ve loved being here. It’s like home.”Tags: Clarence Alexander Jones, Loren Simmons, Robert Solomon II