2023-24 Awards Presented During LMU Law Commencement Ceremony

Law Awards

Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law (LMU Law) Vice President and Dean Matt Lyon presented the 2023-24 Lincoln Lawyer Awards for Leadership, Outstanding Character, and Service to graduates McKenzie Wilson, Nathan Dowdy, and Daniel Dunn and the Professor of the Year Award to Assistant Professor of Law John Towers Rice during the LMU Law Commencement ceremony on May 9.

Each year, graduating LMU Law students are nominated for and selected to receive the Lincoln Lawyer awards by the law school’s faculty and staff. Dean Lyon observed that the awards “are presented to three graduates who best demonstrate Abraham Lincoln’s ability to withstand adversity and move forward in the face of frustration, to be a strong leader yet listen to different points of view, to acknowledge errors and learn from them, and to share the credit for success and the blame for failure,”

The Lincoln Lawyer Award for Leadership was awarded to McKenzie Wilson of Franklin, Kentucky. Wilson is a first-generation college graduate. She earned bachelor’s degrees from Western Kentucky University and a master’s in health administration from the University of Kentucky.

At LMU Law, Wilson was an integral part of both the Mock Trial and Moot Court teams. She served as Mock Trial Treasurer as a second-year law student and President in her third year. Wilson won the Best Advocate Award at the Kimsey Cup Intramural Mock Trial Competition as a first-year law student, and most notably, won the award for Best Closing Argument at the National Trial Advocacy Competition last fall in Detroit, Michigan. In Moot Court, Wilson was a Quarterfinalist at the ABA National Appellate Advocacy Competition in Spring 2023 and wrote a Top Ten Brief at the same competition earlier this semester.

“McKenzie has served as a Peer Leader for the last two years and was the Head Peer Leader this year,” said Dean Lyon. “Her organization and leadership skills were apparent at events such as Fall 2023 Orientation and our Spring 2024 prospective student open house. A staff member who worked with McKenzie in this capacity said that ‘she has been a selfless leader and student.’ She works well with others, and her strength of character garners the admiration of faculty and students alike.”

Beraiah Benavides-Monzon, Salter Blowers, Peyton Cross-Donaldson, John Foster, Thomas Gutwein, Kelli Holmes, Bethany Jervis, Carson Kovalic, Kassadi Lavrinovich, Evan Miller, Rachel Schworer, Leah Spradlin, and Ariana Wright were also nominated for the Lincoln Lawyer Award for Leadership.

The Lincoln Lawyer Award for Outstanding Character was awarded to Nathan Dowdy of Seymour, Tennessee. Dowdy received his undergraduate education at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Agricultural College, where he majored in Wildlife and Fisheries Management. Dowdy graduated magna cum laude, the second-highest academic honor at LMU Law, and in the Top Ten of his class. Dowdy also served as President of the Environmental Law Society and Vice President of the Christian Legal Society.

“Nathan’s outstanding character is readily apparent to everyone who interacts with him. Because of his position at the law school’s reception desk, just about all of us have been fortunate to have Nathan brightening our days for the last two years,” said Dean Lyon. “One faculty member who nominated Nathan for this award wrote: ‘Nathan Dowdy is simply one of the kindest, sweetest, and most considerate people I have ever met.’”

Salter Blowers, Tyra Brown, Samantha Floro, John Ford, Cherie Gaines, Thomas Gutwein, Bethany Jervis, Luke Johnson, Matthew McClurg, Evan Miller, Kara Potts, Jason Repath, Grant Sadler, Erin Sangster, Laken Scott, Bailey Stamp, Kimberly Trotter, Grant Whitmer, and Ariana Wright were also nominated for the Lincoln Lawyer Award for Outstanding Character.

Daniel Dunn of Knoxville, Tennessee was awarded the Lincoln Lawyer Award for Service. Daniel grew up in Knoxville, the son of a long-time Tennessee state legislator. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Maryville College before embarking on a career as a banker.

“In his law school application, Daniel illustrated the LMU Law core value of self-awareness by acknowledging that years of patience and hard work in the private sector had prepared him to excel in law school in ways he might not have been prepared to do as a younger man,” said Dean Lyon. “Daniel, and others in the Class of 2024, have continued a tradition at LMU Law, dating back to our inaugural class fifteen years ago, of non-traditional students who change their lives through legal education.”

Coming from a family where public service was highly valued, Dunn has been heavily involved in leadership at his church as Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus Council, as well as with several other community organizations. Dunn also has volunteered as a football coach at Powell High School and a basketball coach for the Fountain City Rec Commission. He graduated with the General Oliver Otis Howard Pro Bono Award, which shows his commitment to service.

Beraiah Benavides-Monzon, Nathan Dowdy, Cherie Gaines, Carson Kovalic, Mitchell McClurg, Jason Repath, Rachel Schworer, Willow Van Skyhawk, Tenaya Winkelman, and Ariana Wright were also nominated for the Lincoln Lawyer Award for Service.

Each of the award winners were presented with a commemorative gift featuring Abraham Lincoln and a certificate.

In addition to the Lincoln Lawyer Awards, Assistant Professor John Towers Rice was presented the 2023-24 Professor of the Year award, which is voted on by the entire LMU Law student body. The Professor of the Year award is a way for students to recognize exceptional teaching and those professors who have had a direct impact on their lives and their training as lawyers-to-be.

A South Carolina native, Rice graduated with honors from Clemson University and the University of Tennessee College of Law. He then clerked for Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Sharon Lee and practiced as a commercial litigator in Knoxville for several years.

In 2019, Rice entered academia, first as a legal writing professor at the University of Massachusetts School of Law and then as a Visiting Professor at Duquesne University School of Law. Rice has quickly established himself as a young star within the community of business law scholars. He has presented his scholarship at numerous national conferences and published articles in the FIU Law Review and Northeastern Law Review. However, it is his tireless commitment to teaching and enhancing student learning that makes him such a valuable faculty member at LMU Law.

“Multiple students in Professor Rice’s first-year Civil Procedure class called him the best professor they have ever had at any level of their education. One student described him as ‘engaging, knowledgeable, personable, and very in tune with his students. His expectations are high, and he wants all students to be successful,’” said Dean Lyon. “I am grateful for Professor Rice’s commitment to our law school’s mission and to our students, and I am so thrilled they have recognized his hard work with this award.”

The Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law is located in Knoxville’s Historic Old City Hall Building. LMU Law is an integral part of LMU’s values-based learning community and is dedicated to preparing the next generation of lawyers to provide sound legal service in the often underserved region of Appalachia and beyond.

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