Chris Gracey had not imagined a career in law until he took an undergraduate class in international law from Professor Rodelio Manacsa, a native of the Philippines who earned his Ph.D. in political science at Vanderbilt University. Chris found the class transformative. During his remaining time at Sewanee, he took every course Professor Manacsa taught and spent summers working for international non-government organizations, including the international peace initiative Falling Whistles.
After graduation, he moved to Scotland to earn an LL.M. in international law at the University of Edinburgh. “The master’s program gave me an opportunity to explore international law on a deeper level,” he said. “I focused on human rights and the law of armed conflict. That cemented my interest in those areas, and I’ve brought that same focus with me to Vanderbilt.”
Chris then spent three years teaching math and special education in his hometown, Cleburne, Texas–work he describes as “incredibly rewarding and exhausting”–before entering law school. After applying to more than 10 law schools, he chose Vanderbilt because of its strong International Legal Studies Program, headed by Professor Timothy Meyer. Chris received the Raymonde I. Paul Scholarship, awarded each year to an incoming student interested in international legal practice.
His scholarship enabled him to attend Vanderbilt in Venice, the law school’s summer study program, which offers classes on different topics in international law each summer. In his Venice classes, Chris learned how rapidly international law is evolving. “In Professor (Kevin) Stack’s European Union Law class, I remember thinking about a paper I’d written for my LL.M. on the topic we were discussing. The issue had an entirely different outcome now because the state of E.U. law had changed so radically,” he said.
Chris also worked as a research assistant looking into the current status of human rights law for Professor Ingrid Wuerth, who heads the Branstetter Litigation and Dispute Resolution Program, after taking her Public International Law class. “Professor Wuerth is a great professor–she’s incredibly intelligent,” he said.
Chris spent his spring 2018 semester as a legal intern at the U.S. Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York. “I took Professor Newton’s International Practice Lab, during which I gained great experience engaging in international legal research, and at the U.S. Mission, I’m doing a lot of research and writing on different topics,” he said. “It’s been a great experience.” He spent summer 2018 working as a legal intern in the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs in Washington, D.C.
Chris acknowledges that returning to graduate school was “a real adjustment,” but he has enjoyed his law classes. “Classes here are rigorous and challenging, but the professors make the material approachable and interesting,” he said. He was surprised that he enjoyed first-year classes in areas of law he hadn’t expected to find interesting. “I had expected to find Property Law really boring, but Professor (Chris) Serkin is a great professor, and he brought lots of energy to conveying concepts like the rule against perpetuity. And I didn’t really mind the Socratic cold-calls–eventually, you get the hang of talking in class.”