As Regent University School of Law alumna Kristen Waggoner ’97 steps through campus, several competing thoughts run through her mind:
“There are a ton of memories,” she says with a laugh. “What stands out is remembering the presence of the Holy Spirit and how strong it is on this campus, and how free we are to express that; the spirit of that is very unique.”
This facet of Regent’s mission is particularly important to Waggoner as the senior vice president of United States legal advocacy at the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an organization protecting religious freedom.
ADF has held seven cases in the last seven terms of the U.S. Supreme Court in areas of litigation, public advocacy and legislative support – a calling that Waggoner knew she would follow when she was 13 at a summer camp.
She returned to campus to accept Regent’s Alumnus of the Year award presented by the Office of Alumni Relations at the University Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, May 7. And as a self-prescribed introvert, receiving the distinction was both an honor and a stretch.
“Here’s why: it’s deeply humbling,” she says. “Every day I work with Regent grads of the law school [at ADF], and I know the caliber that’s there. I know what they’ve done, and I know they deserve it. I feel very fortunate.”
Apart from the study sessions with her husband, Benjamin Waggoner ’97 (LAW), and the intellectual rigor she equates to mental “boot camp,” moot court and trial advocacies, when she looks back, she remembers working hard not to stand out.
“I could give you highlight – what I remember most, though, was that I wasn’t anything special while I was here,” she says. “But God still created works for me to do. And he used my time here to prepare me for them.”
Now, her role requires the supervision of 60 in-house attorneys who partner with the organization’s nearly 3,000 allied attorneys in the world’s largest organization that works to ensure people may live consistently with their faith.
“It’s requiring me to step out of my comfortable shell,” she says. After 16 years working her way to partner at a law firm, Waggoner’s transition into working for ADF has felt like “returning home and joining [her] people.” She relishes defending the right that she believes gives every person the ability to explore the meaning of life.
“It affects every person regardless of what their faith is or if they have no faith at all,” says Waggoner. “It’s the right to explore who you are, who created you, why you were created and then to live consistent with that. It’s a fundamental right.”
Waggoner’s return to campus reminded her that in the midst of a changing culture with challenges to these fundamental rights at every corner, future lawyers are being prepared to follow their calling, rather than a lofty position title or a paycheck.
“It’s inspiring,” she says. “It cultivates hope. God can use anyone, but there are people here who clearly want to make themselves available to Him and His plan. And those are the people that I want to work with.”