Cooley law student honored for efforts during New Zealand earthquake crisis


Editor's Note: The following is the text of remarks by retired Judge Betty Widgeon when she presented the "Student Great Deeds Award" to Thomas Cooley Ann Arbor student Elizabeth Franklin.

The Center for Ethics, Service, and Professionalism is pleased to present the Student Great Deeds Award.

This award is given up to once per term per campus to recognize students who have demonstrated outstanding commitment to the service of others. Nominations are accepted by classmates, staff, faculty, or members of the community who have witnessed our students going above and beyond in the area of public service, whether through long-term commitment or through a single act of great service.

Today we are honoring Elizabeth Franklin.

On February 22nd Elizabeth was in Christchurch, New Zealand participating in Cooley's study abroad program along with fellow students and faculty. On that day, a major, 6.3-magnitude, earthquake devastated the city. After a period of anxiously and waiting, she and her family learned that the rest of our students and faculty were safe. The building they were in at the time of the quake had not collapsed, but their housing was no longer habitable. Phone lines were not working, the water supply was contaminated, there were substantial after-shocks, and the roads were grid-locked as the government evacuated all nonresidents to Wellington, a city on the island to the north.

Despite recommendations to return to the United States, Elizabeth and several others of our Cooley students stayed. They were a part of something catastrophic and chose to put their fears aside in order to assist many in dire need. Reflecting on those events Elizabeth remarks, "It was very scary going back to Christchurch to volunteer, but so many peoples' lives had been devastated; we just couldn't leave New Zealand without helping."

They sought out an organization to assist and joined the University of Canterbury's "Student Army." They shoveled silt for an elderly lady who refused to leave her house despite pleas from her daughter to evacuate. They assisted a family whose 22 year-old daughter had lost both legs in the quake. Another day they helped a family whose daughter had been home alone when the earthquake struck. She ran outside to save her cats and a wave of silt exploded from the sewage pipe along side their property. The teenager ran down the driveway to escape, just to be chased back by more liquid pouring in from the street. They also spent time filling sand bags, boiling drinking water and serving food for other volunteers, and the residents of Christchurch.

Elizabeth further comments, all the residents and other volunteers we encountered were unbelievably selfless and helped their neighbors without being asked. We agree, and are so proud of our students. Today we say of them: these students were unbelievably selfless and brave in their willingness to volunteer and assist the residents of Christchurch, without being asked.

Our other students have been honored at their campuses. Please join me in honoring: Elizabeth Franklin. Elizabeth, we are proud of your accomplishments in law school, and we are inspired by your compassion for others.


Published: Mon, Aug 1, 2011