March 2023 — Midway through her speech at the Hon. Sylvia H. Rambo Award Ceremony and Reception, honoree Imani S. Woodyard ’21 made a statement that resonated with those gathered in Penn State Dickinson Law’s Apfelbaum Family Courtroom and Auditorium.

“We must honor women, we must respect women, and we must listen with the intention to understand and not dismiss them,” said Woodyard. The crowd broke into applause. A few minutes later, fellow award recipient Hon. Alicea Elloras-Ally ’99 built on those remarks.

She took time to honor Rambo, a 1962 Dickinson Law graduate who was the only woman in her class. “Thank you, Judge Rambo, for all that you have done for the legal profession and for women in your profession. I do not think I would be standing here without the work that you have done,” said Elloras-Ally.

Her speech, too, drew an ovation at the 28th annual event recognizing outstanding women in the legal profession, held on March 22. Elloras-Ally, who has served on the New York City Family Court since 2015, was presented with the Hon. Sylvia H. Rambo Award. Woodyard, a family law attorney with MidPenn Legal Services in York, received the Recent Alumna Award, a category added to the ceremony in 2020.

During her Dickinson Law years, Woodyard belonged to the Women’s Law Caucus, which presents the annual awards as part of its mission to expose law students to gender issues like those the honorees highlighted in their speeches. “As one of the cornerstone organizations on campus, the Women’s Law Caucus advocates for women and balances the inequity that still exists in the law. We also bring in people who may not identify as women but align with that mission,” said Women’s Law Caucus Vice President Tessa Brandsema ’24.

2023 Women's Law Caucus Awards Ceremony

Dickinson Law Plays a Critical Role for Honorees

The ceremony began with a welcome by Women’s Law Caucus President Lauren Hillegas ’24, who introduced Rambo. “She is one of Dickinson Law’s most dedicated alumni leaders,” said Hillegas. “We thank her for her unmatched dedication to our beloved law school.”

Rambo reflected on her 1979 appointment as a federal judge to the Middle District of Pennsylvania. “President Jimmy Carter was responsible for appointing 23 women of different backgrounds to the federal bench that year,” said Rambo. “It was, and it still is, the most that have been appointed by any president of the United States.” It more than doubled the number of female federal judges.

Rambo also spoke about the new federal courthouse in Harrisburg that bears her name. “For the students, hopefully if you practice in the area, you will have the opportunity to get into this courthouse,” said Rambo.

Woodyard spoke next, describing her practice serving low-income individuals and survivors of domestic violence. “I never would have imagined that I would be here giving a speech at this ceremony on this side of the podium,” said Woodyard. “I absolutely would not be the attorney, nor individual, that I am today without the experience and guidance I received at Dickinson Law. Working in the field of family law, specifically custody and domestic violence, I see the challenges that women face within our society. …The mistreatment of women has damaging effects on families that are difficult to overcome.”

Elloras-Ally, too, has worked to protect women and families, including as staff attorney with the New York City Administration for Children’s Services and later as a court attorney with the New York City Family Court. She recalled her surprise at receiving the email saying she would receive the Rambo Award, recounting Rambo’s many achievements.

She credited her Dickinson Law education with equipping her with tools for success. More than two decades after graduating, Elloras-Ally said she continues to rely on analytic strategies she learned from professors such as Gary S. Gildin and Laurel S. Terry, last year’s Rambo Award recipient. “Dickinson Law shaped who I am and why I get to stand here tonight. I was well prepared when I left law school. The lessons that I learned here still help me today,” said Elloras-Ally.

Before wrapping up, Elloras-Ally acknowledged the importance of dedicated mentors in her career. It echoed the Women’s Law Caucus’ focus on mentorship, including pairing first-year students with second- and third-year students, a program Woodyard participated in. Again, it was an example of women honoring and listening to women, the theme of the night. “Having the ear of someone who has already been through that first year is so crucial to the success and enjoyment of law school,” said Jamelia Graham ’24, Women’s Law Caucus mentorship chair.

Following the ceremony, students, faculty, graduates, and guests mingled at a reception. Elloras-Ally, who had not returned to Dickinson Law in several years, said she enjoyed sitting in on a class and walking around campus earlier in the day. Woodyard felt equally thrilled to be back. “My time here went by so fast. I appreciated it, and it means a lot to be honored by the people and institution that I have such great memories of,” said Woodyard.