Alum Says Positive Attitude, Enthusiasm Are Key to Excellence
Distinguished Young Alumnus William C. Ramsey '97,
left, is passionate about his volunteer work with veterans.
He is pictured here with Capt. Hayes and Col. Shaw at his
local VFW. This past year William C. Ramsey ’97 (political science), assistant chief counsel in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, received the Alumni Association’s Distinguished Young Alumnus Award, in recognition of his ongoing quest for excellence. Ramsey, a summa cum laude graduate, says that his time at UMass Amherst played a major role in making him who he is today.
“Doing well academically was my primary focus,” Ramsey reflects. “I had some tremendous professors. In fact, I’m still in contact with many of them today. I got a lot out of the department, and absolutely loved it. My extracurricular activities, too, were extremely beneficial. From my involvement in the Army ROTC program, the Student Government Association, Pi Sigma Alpha (the political science honor society), and many other organizations, I learned a lot about leadership, running organizations, and interacting with people.”
Eager to attend law school, Ramsey was accepted into the U.S. Army’s Educational Delay Program to attend Northeastern University, where he earned his JD in 2000. Preparing for the Massachusetts Bar Exam, he worked as an admissions rep for the law school, and in January 2001 began his active duty service by attending Officer Basic Course at the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s School in Charlottesville, VA. After graduation, Ramsey went to Fort Bragg to begin his service with the 82nd Airborne Division as an Army paratrooper and a legal assistance attorney before beginning his work as a prosecutor.
And then came September 11, 2001. “About three months later,” Ramsey recalls, “our unit learned that we’d be sending a brigade to Afghanistan. I wasn’t assigned to the brigade then, but I wanted to go. My commander told me that I was junior to an officer, so there was no way I was going. I returned the next day and got the same response. Two days later, I asked one last time, and raising his voice, he said, ‘All right, you can go. Just get out of my office!’” Although Ramsey doesn’t elaborate on the details, in 2003 he was awarded the Bronze Star for Meritorious Service in Combat Operations.
Putting his law degree to work, Ramsey served as an Army prosecutor, trying numerous Courts-Martial, before being appointed to the faculty at the United States Military Academy at West Point. During this period he taught Constitutional and Military Law and coauthored Public Policy and Criminal Justice: The Election of 2004 and the Future. When the Abu-Graib prison abuse crisis surfaced, Ramsey was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, to investigate and report on interrogation techniques that were used during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In 2005 Ramsey left active duty to become assistant district attorney with the Plymouth County District Attorney’s Office in Brockton, MA. “I wanted to continue doing trial work and liked the idea of working in my community. After two years, the opportunity arose with Homeland Security to work with federal law enforcement agencies, handling a wide variety of cases.” Ramsey continues to serve in the Army Reserve as a major, and is again a member of the faculty at the USMA.
Ramsey offers some insights on what it takes to achieve excellence. “Any success I’ve had in life is a result of my optimism and positive attitude. Looking negatively on a situation is never going to solve a problem,” he explains. “Staying positive and working hard will always bring a better result. Moreover, the cornerstone of great leadership is enthusiasm and positive energy. This approach will overcome the most difficult of obstacles.”
Ramsey says he isn’t afraid of challenges. “Like anything in life, trying something new or different is always difficult and requires a tremendous amount of hard work. The experience you come away with will benefit you always.” For example, Ramsey cites the first case he ever prosecuted, a negligent homicide while he was in Afghanistan. “As a young prosecutor, one hopes to ease into bigger cases, but suddenly I had to handle a very complex case. There were some extremely long nights, but the experience was unbelievable, and I benefited greatly.”
On that note, Ramsey encourages people to take chances early in their careers. “When I was chosen to assist in an investigation related to the Abu-Graib situation, I didn’t know what to expect and looked at the prospect of being deployed to Iraq as not the best way to spend the summer. But working on this high-level investigation taught me invaluable lessons that I’ll never forget.”
For those interested in a law career, Ramsey encourages doing a legal internship in either the private or public sector while in college. “Law school is a tremendous commitment financially and academically,” he says. “Before deciding to attend, you should see if you enjoy the work.”
Outside of his professional life, Ramsey is involved in various community organizations, including youth football and baseball, the Zoning Board of Appeals, and the Rotary Club in Hingham, MA. “It’s important to keep in mind that, first and foremost, one has an obligation to family,” Ramsey says, though he admits that maintaining a balance with work can be difficult. “I recommend finding an area of community service that one is passionate about—for me it’s veterans’ related issues.” In addition to being a trustee of the Massachusetts Soldiers Legacy Fund, Ramsey is a board member of the New England Homeless Veterans Shelter, the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Ramsey also believes it is important to support UMass Amherst, both financially and by helping students. “At least once a year,” he notes, “my college friends and I go out to Amherst for a weekend to take in a basketball or hockey game. There’s something special about the campus. The energy of the students is contagious, and being on campus brings back great memories. There is something for everyone at UMass Amherst—the opportunities are endless. In every field possible, alumni have achieved great things.”
December 15, 2008