When David Wyatt graduates from Campbell University law school on Friday morning, his daughter Jennifer will be there, cheering her heart out.
She won’t just be proud of her dad. She’ll be saying “‘atta boy” to one of her classmates.
David Wyatt, 52, of Greenville, is fulfilling a lifelong dream of law school, on his way to becoming a criminal prosecutor. He was a probation officer for 15 years and always knew he wanted to work in the law.
His daughter, Jennifer Wyatt, 24, is right behind him, a second-year student at Campbell. She had no idea of going to law school until the end of her time as an undergraduate social work major at East Carolina University. She realized she didn’t really want to be a social worker. She took the law school admissions test and did well, and applied to Campbell.
That’s when Dad said it was time for a talk. They sat down for a serious conversation.
“You’ve got to be 100 percent committed,” she said he told her.
“I just wanted to impress on her how important it was to be committed to coming and to doing well,” David Wyatt said last week, minutes after finishing his last exam.
Soon after enrolling, Jennifer Wyatt realized she made the right decision. The two often took lunch and study breaks but never had a class together.
On Jennifer’s first day, she had quite the introduction, courtesy of her dad.
At 8:30 a.m. that Monday in property law class, her professor – who had been her dad’s professor – looked out and asked, “Is there a Ms. Wyatt in the room?”
She had to stand up and recite the facts of the case at hand, and it’s one she’ll never forget: Pierson v. Post, a 19th century New York case about a dispute over a dead fox.
David had clued the professor in that Jennifer would be there, and why not “haze” her a bit?
The two have a lot in common. They’re both analyzers.
“We drive people in our family crazy when we get together because all we talk about is law school and the law and legal issues, to the point where they get tired of hearing it,” David says.
But they disagree on just about everything.
Jennifer calls it “an RBG-Scalia type relationship,” referring to Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal, and the late Antonin Scalia, a conservative. Ginsburg and Scalia were fast friends who happened to see legal issues differently.
David is a traditional law-and-order guy, and he’s likely to be a tough prosecutor. To him, though, he’s just being realistic because he’s seen a lot as a probation officer.
Jennifer, on the other hand, has a social worker mindset, and she looks for the good in people. Last summer, she worked in the district attorney’s office in Johnston County. “I thought I’d give his thing a try,” she said.
She soon realized prosecuting cases wasn’t for her.
After a graduation party, they’ll go their separate ways. David will study for the bar exam. Jennifer will spend the summer clerking for an appellate judge in Raleigh.
They say they’re grateful for the time together, even if it was a pressure-filled study marathon.
“When she was in undergrad, I never saw her even though we lived in the same town,” David said.
But he’s gotten closer to his daughter, seeing her daily, the kind of exposure most fathers don’t get with children in their twenties.
Next year, she’ll be a third-year law student. But he doesn’t see Jennifer as following in his footsteps.
“I see us more as contemporaries or comrades,” he said.