John White

Public Interest Law Offers the Chance to Make a Difference

John C. White (Law ’11)

The Mortimer Caplin Fellowship for Public Service

With the Boy Scouts, John C. White helped clean up medical waste on a beach in Singapore. With the Catholic Church, he led a group of college students to the Dominican Republic to see life up close in an economically challenged country.

“The highlights of the Dominican trip were the evening discussions about what the college kids saw, the dire poverty, and the realization that this is how most of the world lives,” White said. “They would start to ask, ‘How can we change things?’ And I realized that law is one of the most direct ways, along with economic development, to change things.”

Now a third-year student at the University of Virginia School of Law, White is pursuing his interest in public service by concentrating in environmental law, human rights law, and international humanitarian law.

Over the summer, he pursued his interest in environmental law as an unpaid intern with the enforcement division of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality in Richmond, Virginia.

He could do this thanks to the financial support provided by the student-run Public Interest Law Association at the Law School, and the generosity of Mortimer M. Caplin and other donors, who endowed a fund that provided eighty-five competitive grants this summer for students who accepted unpaid or low-paying summer internships with public service organizations.

“Mortimer Caplin has had a powerful impact on the lives of our students and graduates,” said Yared Getachew, assistant dean for public service at the School of Law. “For years, his support has allowed students like John to not only pursue public interest careers but, perhaps more important, to find their calling in life, to serve causes that matter to them.”

Caplin (College ’37, Law ’40) is also a professor emeritus of the Law School, a former member of the University’s Board of Visitors, a winner of the Thomas Jefferson Medal, and a former commissioner of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

White’s interest in environmental law evolved from his experience growing up around the world. “I loved the outdoors wherever I lived,” he said.

After moving to Virginia, he realized that he might have taken natural beauty for granted. While hiking the Appalachian Trail, he emerged on a mountaintop next to a strip mine. “I realized that all the things I enjoy are under constant threat,” he said.

In addition to caring about the environment, White is concerned with issues of social justice. This past year, he organized a conference on international humanitarian law and booked program panelists. Speakers included officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross and officers in the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Legal Center and School, a federal school of military law adjacent to the Law School.

After completing his legal studies, White will take the Virginia state bar examination and has made a four-year commitment to the U.S. Navy JAG Corps.

White’s parents paid for his undergraduate education, but he is paying for law school on his own.

“That’s why the fellowship is so important,” he said. “With the state budget under pressure, the Department of Environmental Quality doesn’t have any money to pay me. But I can still do the good work of defending the environment.”