by Amanda Ostuni
Campbell Lawson’s grandfather often jokes that Campbell’s first words were “Go Duke.” It’s no surprise, then, that Campbell PPS’24 is the fifth member of her family, across three generations to become a Blue Devil.
Campbell’s grandparents James Girand and Juanita Jones kicked off a Duke dynasty when they met at the university in 1954. He was an engineering student, and she was studying zoology.
“They had such good memories and had shared so many stories about the school, it would be hard not to get caught up in their enthusiasm for it,” says Lisa, who followed them Duke, graduating with an AB in Public Policy Studies in 1989.
Love for Duke was similarly then baked into Campbell and her sister Bryn T’21 as the Lawson family grew up always cheering on Duke basketball together.
“I’ve loved Duke… [for] as long as I can remember,” says Campbell. “So, it was a no-brainer to apply.”
But neither Campbell nor Lisa felt pressured into choosing Duke, and both saw plenty appeal of the school beyond the family history – e.g., the program, reputation, campus beauty, culture.
“It was pretty much a choice I made when I was 11 years old,” says Campbell. “But [in high school, when I figured out] college is something beyond just a sport you’ve been cheering for, I learned it had characteristics that really fit me, [it would] give me access to great internships and there’s such interesting courses… so that helped solidify my decision.”
Sanford’s Siren Call
Once at Duke, Campbell made another decision that would add a second layer to the family’s Duke legacy. She was drawn to Sanford, as her mother was before her. More than three decades apart, each Lawson woman stepped outside their respective initial majors – pre-med for Lisa, economics for Campbell – to take public policy introductory classes at Sanford. That choice proved monumental for both women.
For Lisa, it redirected her whole future. Having already become disenchanted with pursuing a medical career, she fell in love with public policy.
“I loved learning about decision-making trees and how to write a memo,” says Lisa. “And I decided [it was] a subject area that was so broad and interesting.”
So, she made public policy her major, and from there fell into a “natural progression” to law. She found herself taking law-related courses, and did her mandatory summer internship at an organization she says essentially served as the district attorney’s office for Washington, D.C.
After Duke, Lisa obtained her law degree from UCLA, then went on to join a major firm. When she hit the sexist “glass ceiling” women in law often encounter that keeps them from obtaining promotions to partner within a reasonable time, she and a colleague created their own law firm. At one point, their firm was named among the biggest women-owned businesses in the San Francisco Bay area, and it’s where Lisa’s lawyer husband also works.
“[Being a lawyer] can be pretty intense and stressful, but I love how intellectually challenging it is, and how multifaceted it is,” says Lisa, who deals primarily in unemployment and real estate law. “I do so many different things on a daily basis… and I love having that variety.”
For Campbell, she’s not yet sure if her step into Sanford will lead to a law career like her mother – and like her sister Bryn is pursuing – but it did prompt her to add public policy as a second major. It also led her to her best friend at Duke.
“My first Sanford class was a public policy history elective, and [this person] was also in the course… [she was taking] it because she’d heard good things about Sanford,” says Campbell. “We edited each other’s midterm papers… and [ever since] we’ve spent pretty much every second of our college careers tied at the hip.”
Finding Togetherness AND Independence
Having so many members as Blue Devils has made Lisa’s family particularly close. There’s bonding over the basketball games, as well as sharing stories and places – Lisa and Bryn lived in the same house! – and discussing Duke’s evolution; it’s a lot more academically serious and challenging than when Lisa’s parents or even Lisa attended.
Lisa notes, too, a more professional benefit of being a multi-generational Duke household. She says it’s helpful to have a parent as an alumna of your own school because they can help you navigate the alumni network for job hunting. She feels being able to offer such guidance to Campbell (and Bryn) brings them closer. Campbell notes an academic benefit: she’s been able to turn to her mother for insight on courses, and to help ensure she’s taking full advantage of what Sanford has to offer.
But even as Campbell leans on her mother for such things, and enjoys the family bonding, she’s cognizant of making Duke her own experience. She’s even hesitant to pursue law partly because it was the path of her parents and sister.
“It would be a little hard to feel like I’m doing my own thing and accomplishing my own goals if I [pursue] the exact same thing my sister and parents did,” says Campbell. “[And even now] there are definitely times when I feel like I'm completely and totally not walking my own path.”
However, that feeling is mitigated because Campbell has found activities that her mother and sister were not involved in. For example, Campbell writes for the Duke Chronicle – covering men’s basketball, thus fulfilling a longtime dream while doing something all her own.
For Lisa’s part, she made Duke her own by simply being the first in her family to not pursue a traditional science. Lisa’s other daughter Bryn walked her own path because, even though she’s at law school now, she didn’t get there through Sanford – instead she studied political science in the Trinity College of Arts and Science.
“Duke offers so many great experiences for people that have very different interests – Campbell and Bryn are complete opposites, yet Duke is a school that can be fulfilling for both of them,” says Lisa.
“We definitely all found a lot of happiness here, no matter what it was from,” says Campbell. “We have such core memories from Duke – and obviously I’m only two years in, but I’m hoping to make a few more of those.”
That’s a key part of Campbell’s future goals – enjoying her time at Duke, on her way to a good job, be it in finance (her current track), law, policy, or something else.
Lisa’s future plans include getting further involved in leadership at a trade organization, the National Association of Minority and Women-Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF), and diving into her new role on the Duke Alumni National Board of Directors. As for the future of the family’s Duke legacy, Campbell has a pretty good idea.
“For a fourth generation to try and justify not going to Duke, they’d have to put up a great fight,” Campbell jokes.
Adds Lisa, “If I get to see that, it would be amazing—it would be so fun!”