By ALLYSON COOK
(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) — Shocked. That’s what everybody felt in the courtroom that Friday afternoon in April 2015 when an innocent woman was sentenced to prison for 10 years.
Luke Hawley, UCM student body president, was brought on to a case his freshman year by a friend who was working for a local defense attorney. They were tasked with helping what they believed to be an innocent woman win her trial. Hawley spent more than 40 hours listening to police tapes of depositions; he knew this woman was innocent.
Hawley said he helped teach her public speaking, helped her buy new clothes and created a defense for her case, but it wasn’t enough. It was a hung jury. The judge told them in order to go home they had to make a decision. At that point it was a 5-4 jury and they decided they wanted to go home early that afternoon and ruled against the woman.
“I will never forget walking away and seeing the tears on my friend’s face as she realized what she could have done more,” Hawley said.
Hawley’s world was turned upside down that afternoon. When he came to college he originally wanted to be an English teacher. He said that day in the courtroom is when he realized he wanted to be the voice for people and help make positive change in the world.
Hawley, a junior finishing his first term as president of the UCM Student Government Association, said he plans to continue to dedicate his time to making UCM better during his second term.
“I don’t want to leave thinking, ‘Man I should’ve done more,’” Hawley said. “I want to make sure there is a UCM left when I am gone.”
Hawley is a political science major with minors in economics and legal studies. Hawley said since he was elected president of SGA in the spring of 2016, he has seen the most legislation passed since joining SGA two years go.
Hawley said he has been encouraging members of SGA to write legislation and then makes sure it goes to the right people. He said he wants to show them that they can have an impact on campus.
“He has kept SGA members working hard to help the voices of our student body to be heard and acted upon,” said Trey Hecker, SGA treasurer. “I’m looking forward to what else he can do to motivate and support our SGA members to better our campus.”
Hawley said this role is preparing him for his future. He said he has two routes in mind for his future, and both ways give him the opportunity to change the world. The first way is by becoming a defense attorney and systematically changing lives one person at a time. Hawley said his main goal is to run for office and become governor. He said he believes his future will include both routes.
“I want do something where I can advocate for people who cannot advocate for themselves,” Hawley said. “I think I could really help a lot of people.”
Besides SGA, Hawley is the captain of UCM’s mock trial team. Mock trial is an academic team that participates in simulated legal trials. Hawley is the lead attorney, which is the closing attorney.
“My favorite part is seeing how the lessons I learn in the classroom can have real-world applications,” Hawley said. “Mock trial really emphasizes the idea of learning to a greater degree.”
He said Adam Sommer, who coaches mock trial, is the person who has influenced him the most. Sommer is an attorney for the Warrensburg firm Harris, Harris, & Gilbert, L.L.C. Hawley and Sommer have many different relationships — Sommer is Hawley’s brother-in-law, Hawley works at Sommer’s office and Sommer said they have a mentor or coach relationship along with a friendship.
Hawley said Sommer taught him what it means to be a lawyer and what you can do with it.
“He showed me how law can really change people’s lives,” Hawley said.
Sommer graduated from UCM in 2008 and was part of SGA as the university issues committee chair. He said he can see ideas he implemented still happening and sees Hawley continue to grow SGA even more since he attended.
“He is always interested in what’s right and the idea of justice is strong with him,” Sommer said.
Hawley said he wants students to be able to come to him; he wants to make their experience on campus the best it can be. In response to recent state budget cuts, Hawley said he is working to advocate for students with state legislators.
“One of my goals is to rally people to get us more funds,” Hawley said.
In recent weeks, Hawley has met with state senators and representatives of Warrensburg to tell them how students are feeling in this time of uncertainty and rising tuition.
“Luke has put in countless hours building relationships with every public university in the state of Missouri to band together during this time of higher education budget issues to ensure that we are taken care of,” said Orie Hemme, SGA vice president. “If anyone at this university bleeds red, it is Luke Hawley.”
Hawley and UCM President Chuck Ambrose met with Sen. Denny Hoskins, of Warrensburg, and his staff; UCM’s lobbyist, Luann Madsen, and Gov. Eric Greitens’ chief policy director, Will Scharf. He said he told him his story of why he chose to attend UCM and why it is important for the state to continue investing in colleges.
Hawley said he chose UCM because of the cost and the quality of education he is receiving.
“Getting to tell them what students are saying and feeling is really going to prepare me for when I am sitting in their shoes,” Hawley said. “I can then remember what it’s like to be the one fighting to have students’ voices heard.”
Hawley may lead a busy lifestyle, but he said the greatest lesson he has learned is to do the things that make him happy.
“You need to do whatever makes you lay down at night and you’re still smiling about the day you had,” Hawley said.