“Where Are They Now? Erin Whitcomb - Class of 2000
By Mrs. Lisa Monacelli, Social Studies teacher at SHS
Erin Whitcomb, a member of the very diverse and talented Salamanca High School Class of 2000, is the first subject of a new column featuring the successes of some of our past graduates. We have a lot to be proud of at Salamanca High School and in the community of Salamanca, and it is important to remember that!
Erin is currently a lawyer, serving as a law clerk to a federal district judge in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. She took a long and winding path since high school to reach her destination. Her graduating class was a lively and talented group, who were, by all accounts, very competitive and ambitious. She is still friends with several of her classmates and values those friendships. Erin feels her small town roots have given her an invaluable perspective and sensibility. A strong sense of faith and morals was instilled by her upbringing, and this has greatly informed her value system and the way she lives her life. She says she “wouldn’t trade it for anything.” When asked how Sally High helped prepare her for life after high school, she said that she had some excellent teachers who helped foster her attitude that “if you are willing to work hard and stay humble, you can attain what you desire to achieve.” She gives a few shout-outs to some of her former teachers, including Mr. Mike Ferrara and Mr. Bob Coleman. She talked to Mr. Ferrara just recently, when he called her out of the blue after more than ten years, just to check up on her. He was her tennis coach and drama club advisor and had an important influence on her in high school. She also mentioned Mr. Coleman’s infamous homework policy and the lessons learned from it. His policy was that he only checked the homework of one person per class per day. So a student could play the odds, take the risk and not do the homework or, could be prepared just in case it was his or her day. From this, she learned the valuable lesson to always be prepared for the foreseeable, and the importance of holding yourself accountable even when no one else is doing so. Above her desk in her office at the courthouse still hangs a related quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “The readiness is all.” She felt her education at Salamanca gave her a strong foundation from which she was able compete and keep up with those students she encountered in college and law school who came from private or parochial high schools in more affluent communities.
After Erin graduated from high school, she attended SUNY at Geneseo where she initially intended to study biology, but eventually pursued and earned a BA in Psychology. There, she made life-long friends and developed a passion for the field of psychology. She then attended Alfred University and earned her Master’s Degree in School Psychology. Her clinical work during graduate school exposed her to the varied interactions between schools, families and the legal system. Her interest in child advocacy was expanded and she saw the unique ability that lawyers had to improve the lives of children. This caused her to have second thoughts about her career choice, and with the support of her family and closest friends, she applied to law school. She attended St. John’s University, where she received her J.D. (law degree). After she passed the Bar Exam, her grandmother, Mary Whitcomb Pietrylo, was allowed to hold the Bible as Erin was sworn in to State Bar of North Carolina. Although she left the field of school psychology, she says she uses her psychology degree weekly in her job as a lawyer and that her interest in child advocacy and educational advocacy will always be where her heart lies. She urges seniors, and others, that it is truly “never too late to shift gears.”
As law school was drawing to a close, she applied to be an intern for a federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Pennsylvania (which is the federal appellate court right below the Supreme Court). This court reviews cases that have come to it on appeal from the federal trial courts below. Here, she learned the inner workings of the federal judicial system and developed a strong interest in pursuing a federal clerkship upon her graduation from law school. Recognizing how competitive these positions are, she sent clerkship applications to 180 federal judges nationwide. She received just one interview, and got the job. This job is the one she has today, working with and for a federal district court judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. This court is an extremely busy one, handling a wide variety of important civil and criminal cases, under one of the most experienced and respected federal district judges in Florida. Her job consists of assisting the Judge in handling a heavy docket of civil and criminal cases, dealing primarily with issues of federal law. She reviews pleadings, works on motions, conducts legal research, drafts orders, and eventually makes recommendations to the Judge on how to rule. She also assists him in the courtroom with hearings and trials. Erin is mindful that everything she does reflects on her Judge, which makes her take her job very seriously. She says her Judge is “living proof that the American judicial system works” and that his ardent dedication to the rule of law ensures the fair administration of justice. Working as an advocate for the law, rather than as a “hired gun” advocating the position of a particular client or interest, allows the legal work in chambers and in the courtroom to always remain aimed at delivering a “fair and just result;” and it allows Erin to be able to “lie down at night, feel good and be proud of my day’s work.” Although the days are long, usually ten to twelve hours, she feels this job prepares her well for any federal or state court practice/job out there. Just three weeks ago, the Judge gave her a permanent position as his law clerk, giving her the unique opportunity to stay on as long as she wants the position and for as long as it is in the best interests of her career. She is considering eventually making a move to the position of a federal prosecutor, but until then is very happy and honored to continue working with and for a jurist she respects tremendously.
Photo Caption: Erin on the day of her Swearing-In, April 30, 2010, with her Great Aunt Joyce Freaney (left), Judge Rebecca Blackmore (standing), and her Grandmother Mary Whitcomb Pietrylo (right).