A Circle of Gratitude: 2024 Donors and Scholars Luncheon

Alumni and friends who fund scholarships meet the Columbia Law students who benefit from their generosity.

Alexis Allen ’24 and John J. Sullivan ’85

John J. Sullivan ’85, right, and Alexis Allen ’24, left, at the Donors and Scholars Luncheon.

“The Donors and Scholars luncheon is an opportunity for us to express gratitude to those whose generosity has helped open the doors to legal education,” said Gillian Lester, Dean and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, before the gathering of students, alumni, and friends of the Law School on March 4. “It’s wonderful to have those who came before helping those who come after.”

The history of scholarships at Columbia Law School dates back to 1899, with the initial 16 scholarships funded by J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt. “Now we have hundreds of scholarships, and many of them are named for people in this room, so you’re all in very good company,” said Dean Lester. “You are the latest in a long legacy of alumni and friends who believe in the power of a Columbia Law School education to open opportunities and enable our talented students to chart their own course in the profession.”

The luncheon, held in the Law School’s Case Lounge, featured remarks by Alexis Allen ’24, John J. Sullivan ’85, and his daughter, Katherine A. Sullivan SIPA ’19. John Sullivan is the former deputy secretary of state and former U.S. ambassador to the Russian Federation. He is a partner in Mayer Brown’s Washington, D.C., and New York offices and co-lead of the firm’s national security practice. 

Dean Lester announced that the Sullivan family had established the Grace Rodriguez ’86 Scholars Program in memory of Sullivan’s wife, who died in September 2022. Beginning in the fall of 2025, one incoming Columbia Law student will be selected as a Grace Rodriguez ’86 Scholar and receive a three-year, full-tuition scholarship. “Grace was a passionate advocate, loyal colleague, inspiring mentor, and many mentees have spoken glowingly about the wonderful guidance Grace gave them,” said Dean Lester. “She was a devoted friend to so many, truly an extraordinary alumna to honor.”

During his remarks, Sullivan talked about meeting Rodriguez at the Law School (she was one year behind him) and the “transformative effect” the Law School had on their personal and professional lives. He described how much she enjoyed practicing law at King & Spalding, where she was a senior partner specializing in government investigations and civil litigation. He said their family had decided that the scholarship was a fitting way to honor an extraordinary mother, daughter, and wife.

“But what I'm most excited about is the ancillary part of the program,” said Sullivan, explaining that Grace Rodriguez ’86 Scholars will be encouraged to perpetuate the values Rodriguez exemplified throughout her life by networking, mentoring, and giving career advice to scholar recipients who follow in their footsteps. 

Katie Sullivan expanded on the family’s vision. “We’re trying to build a tangible legacy of my mom’s passion and commitment to mentoring women and new lawyers, both entering the profession as well as facing some of these mid-career challenges that come up,” she said. “We look forward to welcoming the first Grace Scholar … and building this community with each new scholar and each passing year, ultimately culminating in a network that, like Grace, is committed to helping that cohort tackle unique challenges, both personally and professionally, that arise from a demanding career like law.” 

Speaking on behalf of students who have received scholarship support to attend Columbia Law, Allen described the many opportunities and activities that she has taken advantage of during the past three years: serving as vice chair of the Black Law Students Association; researching and writing a note for the Columbia Law Review; interning in the White House Counsel’s Office; creating a podcast for Black women interested in legal careers with Innovation Grant funding from the Davis Polk Leadership Initiative; and traveling to Nairobi, Kenya, as part of a spring break pro bono caravan to provide services to domestic violence survivors and incarcerated individuals. “Columbia Law has presented me with the chance to not only do, but also lead, learn, and be curious with impact and compassion—not only in the Law School but also in the communities around me,” said Allen. 

“As I enter the legal field, I know it will be a balancing act because this degree comes with an immense responsibility to act with empathy and logic, to stand up for what is right,” Allen continued. “With the support of donors and scholars like you, Columbia Law School has laid the foundation for these opportunities of scholarship, leadership, and growth.”