As Marisa O’Gara finishes her studies at Cornell Law School, she is energized to emerge from the upheaval of the past year and ready to create a more just and fair society. The proud daughter of a South American immigrant, O’Gara already has an extensive resume in public service and policy, having worked for Providence, R.I. Mayor Jorge Elorza and the cacmpaign of U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, among other public service positions. And as our society faces new threats to voting rights, LGBTQ equality and healthcare access, she is just getting started making her mark.
"To truly bring about the policy changes we believe in as a community, we need to fix our broken electoral system,” she says.
To that end, O’Gara will be working with law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher in Chicago after graduation. Chief among her reasons for taking this prestigious position was Willkie’s inspiring history of working on pro bono cases that were close to O’Gara’s heart. The firm wrote amicus briefs in the Gavin Grimm case, for example, which centered on transgender rights, as well as in the Obergefell case, the landmark 2015 case that made marriage equality the law of the land.
“Living in these times, you can feel kind of helpless,” she says. “I’m a person who feels a lot better when I am not sitting on the sidelines.”
O’Gara has especially taken that to heart during the difficulties of the past year. As the country grappled with the worst moments of the COVID-19 pandemic, she went to work in her own way, providing pro bono services on behalf of an incarcerated individual who appealed for compassionate release due to a positive coronavirus diagnosis. O’Gara knew that this was the right action to take, as it would protect the health of the individual while also protecting everyone else around them.
On top of this impressive work, O’Gara published her first piece in Cornell’s Journal of Law and Public Policy, an article on gerrymandering and restoring the promise of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. She also won Cornell Law’s Cuccia Cup Moot Court Competition, which was based on a real-life voting rights case currently before the Supreme Court, DNC v. Hobbs. As communities of color and LGBTQ people face threats to their rights, O’Gara is prepared to serve as a formidable defender of justice.
O’Gara does not only find inspiration and motivation by immersing herself in work, though. She has also relied on fellow Point Scholars during the confusion of the past year. She is excited to welcome Point’s next class of scholars as well.
“We don’t know exactly what the world is going to look like in a few months,” she says. “During times like this, community is really important. Point Foundation is an academic organization, but it also feels like a family. And now more than ever, we are all realizing the importance of our connections to others.”