Alumni ProfileJoshua Senavoe '03
Opening doors

senavoeDoors have opened for Joshua Senavoe ’03, sometimes, it has seemed, miraculously. Start with how he got from the West African nation of Ghana, where he grew up, to the west Michigan college of Calvin.

“I still don’t know how we got the information about Calvin,” Senavoe said. “I do know that because my mother wouldn’t pay a bribe to get my high school transcripts, I missed all the college application deadlines—except Yale and Calvin’s.”

Senavoe chose Calvin and thrived. He was a business (economics emphasis) major and pre-medicine minor. He served Professor Randal Jelks as a student leader on the college’s first interim in Ghana (now a semester-long program). He helped organize and hosted Rangeela, the college’s international talent show, and led the “Smooth Criminals” in back-to-back Airband (college lip sync contest) victories. He was national news editor for Chimes and a standout track and field athlete. (He still holds the school’s triple jump record.) So when, after his junior year, tuition debt forced him to take a break from school, it was, Senavoe recalled, “a huge personal blow.”

Over a year later, out of the blue and unsolicited, a friend of his deceased father wrote a check that put Senavoe back in school. “I started bawling, I was so overwhelmed.”

This past May, Senavoe graduated from Howard University School of Law. “After Calvin and after my phenomenal mother passed away [in 2004], I was determined to make a true difference with my life, looked at my skill set and decided the law would give the best opportunity to do so,” Senavoe said.

In his second year at Howard Law, Senavoe was elected president of the school’s International Law Society, then, in his third year, president of the Student Bar Association, the law school’s equivalent of student body president—“the first president with an accent,” Senavoe joked. He was also elected chair of the Howard University Student Board—the highest judiciary entity in the university’s student government.

Senavoe, who was born in California, said, “As both African and American, it was important to me to show that the differences people set up along race and color are nothing but a divisive burden. I wanted to focus on our commonalities and to provide leadership that embraced all students.”

Among other initiatives, Senavoe implemented the law school’s first student center. “We sought to provide all students with equal access to information about succeeding in law school,” he explained. He also took up with administrators and faculty the prickly and complex issue of a reformed grading and honors policy.

The eruption of racial tension in Jena, La., in late 2006 over what came to be known as the Jena Six trial, in which six black teenagers were charged with the beating of a white teenager, also shaped Senavoe’s presidency at Howard University School of Law. With colleagues Labriah Lee and Teri Curtis, he organized HUSL FOR JENA SIX, a movement that combined efforts of the school’s Civil Rights Clinic, faculty and students to research and educate students at large about the issues involved in the case. “Our focus was about changing the culture that creates Jenas, and not just over race, but over all kinds of injustices,” said Senavoe.

Senavoe began his legal career in September in New York City with the international law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. “Though I’ll be doing pro-bono litigation work, I’m starting out in corporate law, because I see it as a way of keeping my doors open and, eventually, opening doors for others,” he said. “As an attorney, especially one to whom God has given so much, I hope to continue fulfilling His purpose in my life.”