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David Washington being sworn in to the US district court for district of Puerto Rico by Carmen Cerezo, the first Puerto Rican woman to sit on the federal bench.

ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: David Washington

David Washington graduated summa cum laude from the University of Florida in 2009. He then served as a Youth Development Volunteer in the Peace Corps in Honduras, where he lived in a small town called San Juancito, situated high up in the mountains outside of Tegucigalpa. “Honduras is a place of great beauty, but also great suffering,” he observes of his time there.

In 2011, he moved to Santa Rosa, California, where he worked for an organization called the Seneca Center. Not only was it a meaningful experience for David, but it was also one where he says his fluency in Spanish continued to play a role. He worked with young men who had run-ins with law enforcement, and who were working on taking their lives in new directions. Many of them spoke Spanish and English, and many had parents who only spoke Spanish. David is well aware of the importance of his ability to communicate in Spanish: “It’s impossible to tell how much less help I would’ve been able to provide had I been unable to communicate with them.”

“My exposure to the Spanish language — facilitated in no small part by the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies—has shaped my life immensely.”

In 2012, David began law school at the University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia has a large Puerto Rican community, and he says he found himself taking the train northeast to eat mofongo so that he could connect with those cultural roots. For the first time, he says, he also looked inward in an effort to understand why he felt the need to seek out those cultural connections. “I came to realize that a language isn’t just sounds and structures; it’s a complex web of feelings, musical notes, flavors, hugs, kisses, smells, fears, hopes, and heartbeats. The sounds that compose the language are the apogee of all these human things. And once you feel these new hues, they become indispensable to your wellbeing.”

David graduated from law school in 2015. When SPS caught up with him for this update, he was in San Juan, Puerto Rico, working as a term law clerk to the Honorable Carmen Consuelo Cerezo—the first Latina chief district judge in the history of the American federal court system. In the seven years since his graduation from UF, David says he has found immense comfort in his ability to connect with 560,000,000 new human beings, the majority of whom live in the Americas. He recognizes that learning Spanish, or any language, takes much more than classroom instruction, but notes that the classroom provides an indispensable foundation. And for that, he says, “I cannot overstate my gratitude to the department.”

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