William Harkins, a graduating senior at Fordham College at Lincoln Center, is heading to law school this fall—thanks in part to his Fordham mentor, Thomas “Tom” Hughes, GSAS ’79, a successful attorney who counseled him through months of law school applications and interviews. 

“[Tom] gave me guidance on how to carry myself, from looking at my cover letters to hearing me rant [about different issues],” said Harkins, a first-generation law student from New Jersey who plans on attending the Emory University School of Law. “It meant the world [to me].”  

Last fall, Harkins and Hughes—executive vice president and general counsel at Greater NY Mutual Insurance—were paired together through the Fordham Mentoring Program. Since then, they have met nearly every week. In a Q&A and video, the pair discuss their relationship, their favorite moments at Fordham, and advice for soon-to-be graduates. See their conversation in the video above and read more below. 

What is one of your most special memories at Fordham? 

William: My orientation took place on the Plaza. I was a transfer student from the Community College of Rhode Island. Looking at all the skyscrapers, cars, and people around me, I had this moment when I realized that Fordham was bigger than the school itself.

William Harkins holds his orientation badge
Harkins holds his first-year orientation badge at the Lincoln Center campus

What makes you emotional when you reflect on your time at Fordham? 

Tom: My father attended Fordham for a year and a half. When I was born, he was just under 20 years old and needed to support our family. He took a job in construction and went on to work in the New York City Police Department. Decades later, my daughters Kathleen and Brittany completed their undergraduate and master’s degrees at Fordham. They both said that they completed his degree for him. 

How has Fordham changed your life? 

William: As a first-generation law student, I feel like the academic and emotional support I received have pushed me to expand my goals and try things that I wouldn’t have tried. Fordham also awarded me a merit scholarship that not only allowed me to attend undergrad, but also look forward to law school without worrying about immense debt.

Tom: At Fordham, I developed an intense interest in philosophy. Because of my experience at Fordham, I ended up going to Columbia, where I studied philosophy at the graduate level, and pursued my Ph.D. nearly 25 years later. 

Tom's daughters at Brittany's
Hughes’s two daughters, who both graduated from Fordham, at Brittany’s master’s graduation in 2021

William, what advice would you give to your freshman year self? 

Be more bold. In my first year, I was a little afraid of putting myself out there. It wasn’t until my junior year that I started to feel like I should say yes to every opportunity. That took effect with the mentorship program. You may try and fail, but you’re always going to learn something. 

Tom, what advice do you have for William as he graduates from Fordham and enters the next stage of his life? 

You have an amazing ability to raise issues and think through them. Take advice from people who give good advice. You have an intense interest in the law that you will continue to cultivate, but you also have a good perspective on work-life balance. Keep that balance, and practice the law honestly and courageously. And most importantly, stay true to yourself. Be William. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Remember, on the evening of May 18, New York’s Empire State Building will be illuminated in Fordham maroon for our graduates.


Taylor is a visual storytelling strategist in Fordham University's marketing and communications department, where she documents University life through photography and video. Since joining Fordham in 2018, she has served as a writer, photographer, videographer, and social media manager, dividing her time between University Marketing and Communications and the Office of the President. She earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from Stony Brook University's School of Communication and Journalism and her master's degree in public media from Fordham University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Her work has appeared on NPR, NBC New York, and amNewYork METRO.