Alumni Awards of Distinction

Social Justice Scholars Alumni Award

This award is sponsored by the Social Justice Mission Scholars at Vermont Law School.

This award is sponsored by the Social Justice Scholars at Vermont Law School. The Scholars are a select group of VLS students chosen through a competitive application process based on their demonstrated commitment to creating a more just society. They carry forward Vermont Law School’s tradition of leadership on social justice issues. To this end, they created the award to honor a Vermont Law School alumnus/a who has demonstrated a deep and abiding commitment to causes of social justice.

Award Criteria

  1. Must be a Vermont Law School alumnus/a. All alumni are eligible.
  2. Must demonstrate tireless commitment and achievement of meaningful impacts in the promotion of a just society. Examples of this commitment include:
    1. Challenging injustice and valuing diversity
    2. Championing the concept that everyone has the inalienable right to be treated equally under the law, regardless of race, gender, religion, age sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, family status, or incarceration
    3. Defending the dignity and justice of all animals
    4. Organizing community initiatives related to social justice
    5. Working for greater access to justice and law reform.
  3. Must have a demonstrated interest in mentoring law students or graduates interested in advancing social justice.

Nomination Guidelines

  1. Alumni who have been nominated previously may be re-nominated during any cycle with no restrictions.
  2. Nominations are due by the end of the day on March 15, 2019.
  3. Nominations must be sent by email to
  4. Nominations must include the following:
    1. Nominating statement in Microsoft Word (or PDF) of no more than three double-spaced pages in length, including:
      1. Name of nominee
      2. Current job title and location of nominee
      3. Year of graduation from VLS of nominee (if known)
      4. Explanation of how the nominee meets the criteria for this award
      5. Details on relationship between nominee and nominator.
    2. Resume/CV of nominee.
    3. Letters from others in support of the nomination can be included but are not required.

Award Selection Process

  1. VLS Social Justice Scholars and Faculty Advisors will review all nominations and select the award winner based on fit of submission to award criteria.
  2. The award winner and nominator will be notified by the Social Justice Scholars' chair or faculty advisor by email by April 1. Details on the award reception during the Homecoming Weekend will be provided.
  3. The Social Justice Scholars' chair or faculty advisor will notify all nominees of their nomination and invite them to attend the homecoming event following the selection of the award winner.
  4. The award will be presented at a reception during Homecoming Weekend (June 28-29, 2019.)
  5. The award winner is expected to attend the reception and provide a brief acknowledgement speech.
  6. All nominees are encouraged to attend the award reception.
  7. The award winner (and all nominees) are encouraged to network with VLS Social Justice Scholars during Alumni Weekend to discuss ways to advance social justice and mentor students interested in same.

For any questions regarding this award or the nomination process, please contact

Tamara Toles O'Laughlin JD/MELP’09, 2018 Award Recipient

Tamara Toles O'LaughlinThe Social Justice Mission Scholars announced in April 2018 that Tamara Toles O'Laughlin JD/MELP’09 was chosen to receive the third Social Justice Scholars Alumni Award. The award, sponsored by the Social Justice Mission Scholars, was created to honor a Vermont Law School alumnus/a who has demonstrated a deep and abiding commitment to causes of social justice. 

Tamara Toles O’Laughlin is an environmental advocate focused on equity, access, and justice. Her niche is developing capacity building programs and the creation of multimedia campaigns to dismantle privilege and increase opportunities for vulnerable populations to access healthy air, clean energy, and a toxic free economy at the local, regional, and national level. She casts a wide net in community service. Among her activities, she is executive director of the Maryland Environmental Health Network (MdEHN), the co-chair of DC Eco Women, serving 6000 professional women in the environment, and she is the vice chair and DC representative on the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Air and Climate Public Advisory Committee. Tamara also serves as a vice chair and director on the Board of Directors of Women’s Voices for the Earth based in Missoula, Montana. Women’s Voices disrupts industry standards by forcing ingredient disclosure and the elimination of toxic chemicals from personal care products.

Tamara has worked for over fifteen years to embed the principles of environmental justice into applied environmental work, with attention to community capacity building, mobilization, equity of enforcement, and environmental health. She has held varying positions with distinguished organizations including the District Department of Energy and Environment, the Maryland Energy Administration, Advisory Council of Historic Preservation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Center on Race, Poverty and Environment, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, among others. Prior to her relocation to the mid-Atlantic Tamara served as the Senior Law Clerk to the Honorable Douglas A. Brady and Senior Sitting Judge Julio A. Brady.


The VLSAA Distinguished Alumni Award

The VLSAA Distinguished Alumni Award was established by the Board of Directors of the Vermont Law School Alumni Association in March 2011. The award is given to alumni who exemplify and enhance "the VLS core values of community, diversity, service, ethics, and justice, and who enhance the reputation of Vermont Law School in the greater community."

The inaugural award in 2011 was presented to J. Scott Cameron JD'80, in recognition of his many years of service to VLS and his significant contributions to the legal community. In 2012, the award was presented to Wynona Ward JD'98, in recognition of her role as founder of Have Justice Will Travel, a model program directed at bringing an end to the generational cycle of abuse for women and children in rural communities. In 2013 the recipient was Professor Linda Smiddy JD'79, the first alumna to become tenured faculty at Vermont Law, in recognition of her contributions to scholarship and the legal profession. The 2014 award was presented to David Mears JD'91, who was recognized for his steadfast advocacy, leadership and service. The Honorable Justice Harold "Duke" Eaton JD'80 received the 2015 award for his exemplary leadership over 35 years in a public service legal career. Gabor Rona JD'78 received the sixth distinguished alumni award for his exemplary work in the field of international human rights. Dr. Marilyn Bartlett JD'91 was selected as the 2017 award recipient in honor of her lifelong efforts to support equal rights and social justice, especially in the field of education. The VLSAA selected Elizabeth MacDonough JD'98 as the 2018 award recipient for her service to the nation as the sixth parliamentarian of the U.S. Senate; she is also the first woman to hold the position in either the Senate or the House of Representatives.

Elizabeth MacDonough JD'98, 2018 Award Recipient

Elizabeth MacDonough JD'98The Vermont Law School Alumni Association awarded the eighth VLSAA Distinguished Alumni Award to Elizabeth MacDonough JD'98. The VLSAA Distinguished Alumni Award was established by the Board of Directors of the Vermont Law School Alumni Association in March 2011. The award shall be given "to that alumnus/a who exemplifies and enhances the VLS core values of community, diversity, service, ethics, and justice, and who enhances the reputation of Vermont Law School in the greater community."

Elizabeth MacDonough is the sixth parliamentarian of the U.S. Senate and the first woman to hold the position in either the Senate or the House of Representatives. She began her service in the Senate parliamentarian’s office as an assistant in 1999, becoming senior assistant in 2002 and parliamentarian in 2012. As parliamentarian, it is MacDonough’s responsibility to assist the vice president, senators, and congressional staff in interpreting and applying the Standing Rules of the Senate, the Constitution of the United States, federal law, and Senate precedent to the various procedures under which the Senate operates. MacDonough is a nonpartisan employee of the Senate. Prior to her work in the parliamentarian’s office, MacDonough served as an assistant district counsel for the former Department of Justice Immigration and Naturalization Service, having been selected for that position through the Attorney General’s Honor Graduate program. She is a senior fellow of the Stennis Center for Public Service Leadership. In 2017, MacDonough was named one of Washington’s 100 most powerful women by Washingtonian magazine. She holds a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University and a JD from Vermont Law School. Elizabeth lives in Arlington, Va., with her Labrador retriever, Blasket.


Alumni Service Award


Susan Lacoste MSEL'03, 2018 Award Recipient

Susan Lacoste Alumni Service AwardThe Alumni Service Award recognizes volunteer service to Vermont Law School, especially active participation in alumni or school affairs, as well as faithful and continued effort in maintaining class, interest group or other alumni organizations. The award was presented to Karis North JD’95 in 2015, Jackie Brilling JD’79 in 2016, and S. Mark Sciarrotta JD’96 in 2017. Vermont Law School has selected Susan Lacoste as the fourth recipient of the annual award, in honor of her advocacy and representation of the master's community, as well steadfast connection to VLS throughout the years since graduation.

Susan arrived at Vermont Law after careers in teaching, translating, and sales. Deeply affected by the impact of climate change and urban sprawl that she was witnessing around her, and experiencing a chance encounter with a VLS graduate at an airport put her on a new path that led to Vermont Law School.

After graduating, Susan became involved in various grassroots organizations in northern Virginia and later in the Montreal area. From physically removing stands of invasive bamboo to participating in seminars on green roofs, Susan contributed to environmental protection and sustainability. She continues with stewardship activities and does pro bono translations for social justice organizations. She has been a member of the Vermont Law School Alumni Association Environmental Master's Committee for since 2013 and currently serves as the chair.



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