Ian Finley was certainly not a slacker in high school, but he wasn’t valedictorian or salutatorian or anything like that; it’s this college senior who is preparing for post graduate school studies that has been offered $400,000 in scholarship monies to study law, including a full scholarship valued at $38,000 per year, plus a $6,000 stipend from the University of Florida Fredric G. Levin College of Law (UF LAW) in honor of the late United States Congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis.
UF LAW is one of nine universities Finley applied to, and even though he’s been offered a full ride at UF LAW, said he has not made a decision on where he will matriculate at next. He is awaiting the response from his ninth choice to which he made application. To date, he has received acceptance responses from eight of those schools.
The UF LAW scholarship Finley has been offered is a scholarship program for graduates of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) seeking to enter the legal profession. The program will award full-tuition scholarships to at least five HBCU graduates enrolling at UF Law every year.
“I’ve been so fortunate to get this opportunity,” said Finley, a senior at Shaw University. “It wasn’t an easy process.”
To get accepted into law school, Finley had to sit and pass the LSAT; due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, he took the LSAT-Flex, an on online, remotely proctored version of the LSAT. The LSAT-Flex is a three-section test using the same question types as the traditional LSAT: analytical reasoning, logical reasoning, and reading comprehension.
“The LSAT-Flex is shorter because you aren’t allowed to leave the room at any time during the exam. Just like the LSAT, you are monitored, but through a camera. Fortunately, my score was good enough, and my extracurricular activities showed schools that I’m more than my grades,” said Finley.
Despite what he says about grades, the political science major at Shaw University has a 3.92 cumulative GPA.
Finley graduated St. Augustine’s College (SAC) in 2017 with a cumulative GPA of 3.03, just above a B grade. While he had the grades to get into an institution of higher learning, he tends to lean towards his musical ability – specifically his drumming talent, that earned him a partial $9,000 per year scholarship to attend the historically black school in Raleigh, North Carolina and become a member of the Platinum Sound Marching Band.
He later was able to get a university endowed scholarship with his grades and was given a resident assistant’s position.
“The band director, [Andre King] from Shaw University reached out to SAC, and Ms. [Marici] Thompson, one of our guidance counselors gave him the names of some of the students in SAC’s marching band – I was one of those students.”
Finley learned to play drums at age 11 from Royal Bahamas Defence Force Officer Pherron Rolle through the St. Ambrose Anglican Church Marching Band, but he honed his talent with the renowned Bahamas All-Stars Marching Band, which he joined at age 12. It is this organization, under band director, Yonell Justilien, that he credits with helping him develop his skills. But he said the opportunity to pursue a degree through the avenue of music came through the guidance counselor’s office at SAC.
His participation in both the Bahamas All-Stars Marching Band and SAC’s Marching Band prepared him for the high-stepping marching band culture that is a part of the HBCU culture and the Shaw University Platinum Sound Marching Band.
At Shaw University Finley also lead the percussion section in his junior year. For that experience he said he was able to draw from his experience in high school in SAC’s marching band when Ian Young, the music teacher and band director, allowed him to lead the drum section.
At Shaw University as a dorm residential advisor, he also received leadership experience, tasked with maintaining the university’s rules and coordinating activities in the resident halls.
“All the freshmen on the floor came to me for advice,” he recalls. “Also, [during my freshman year] I helped to re-establish the International Students Association. It had been inactive for a long period of time and we had to rewrite a new constitution with by-laws.”
Finley served as president for two consecutive years before deciding to go into student government. In his role, he was in charge of the student senate and different organizations on campus. He said he used the experience as internal vice president to determine if he wanted to run for student body president. In his junior year he sought the presidency, unopposed.
“All my peers figured that I was the best person for the job. I didn’t like that. I wanted a little bit of competition,” said Finley. He also received free room and board as president.
Finley hopes his story can inspire high school students, especially those who are musically inclined and considered “average” students, to use their skills to their advantage.
“Having an education is a privileged opportunity that I never take for granted. I don’t just want to walk through every open door. I want to kick it down so others can follow,” said Finley.