Clarke Raises Hope Before Heading off to Harvard
The story has been passed down in the family since sometime in the 1820s. UST senior Sarah Clarke’s great-great-grandmother was a young slave in Jamaica who bore the son of her slave master.
The baby’s skin was white, and the slave master took him from his mother and raised him in luxury, leaving his mother to grieve. She spent almost the rest of her life looking for him and finally showed up on his doorstep when he was in his 30s, introducing herself as his mother. He sent her away, Clarke says, and it was the last anyone ever heard of her.
Clarke carries this sad story in her heart, along with the suffering and sacrifices that other family members have experienced over the decades in both Jamaica and her native United States. But she uses them as a jumping-off point for the joy and hope that bubble over when she talks about her family, her education at UST and her ambitious plans for the future.
“It’s a tremendous honor and responsibility – I’ve had opportunities they could never dream of,” said the 23-year-old Houston native, who will be the student commencement speaker and will head to Harvard Law School this fall. “It’s just amazing coming from this kind of background that I can get where I am today.”
Clarke, a joint major in communications and international studies, will use the event to discuss hope, because hope is what brought her family here, hope helped her father pursue a successful career in software and hope is what she found at UST. “Faith and charity you hear a lot about, but not so much hope. Here at St.Thomas, it’s the subtext of every lesson.”
Clarke, who wants to be a lawyer helping indigent people, credits her parents for their firm guidance to get an education. Her father, Mark Clarke, and mother, Suzanne Broderick, moved to Houston from Jamaica in the early 80s. Her father worked construction while attending the University of Houston and lived with his wife in a one-bedroom apartment with no air conditioning. Then came Sarah, followed by five younger children. Her mother home-schooled all of them, making education into an exploration project, Clarke said.
Coming to UST, she had wanted to be a journalist, but courses in international studies – particularly a course in international political economy – “made me really start to look at the systems in the world and how they influenced the poor.”
That led to her participation in the Innocence Project, where she researched the background of witnesses in the first trial of convicted murderer Anthony Graves, and helped secure a new trial for him.
She recently returned from a brief trip to Harvard, where she sat in on criminal law class. ”I knew they wouldn’t call on me, but I felt like I could answer if they did,” she said. “The intellectual quality here, and the mental exercises you need to prepare for Harvard you get at UST.
“And that is something I’m going to be thankful for the rest of my life.”