He is a former recipient of Tech’s Derryberry Award

Cookeville – A Tennessee Tech University alumnus is now headed to the Ivy League. Aaron Lay, a 2022 Tech graduate with a degree in agriculture communications, is enrolled to attend Harvard Law School this fall.

Lay’s admittance into one of the nation’s top law schools marks the latest step in a swift rise for the first-generation college graduate from Madisonville, Tennessee. He is also a former recipient of Tech’s prestigious Derryberry Award, the university’s highest student honor, and former Tech Student Government Association (SGA) President.

Lay says his years at Tech, which included minors in political science and journalism, laid the foundation for his next chapter at Harvard.

“Tech allowed me to have a curriculum that was curated to my specific goals and interests. I give credit to the College of Agriculture and Human Ecology and my advisors, including Dr. Dennis Duncan and Dr. Billye Foster. They really took their time with me,” said Lay. “The opportunities that I was given at Tech, including leading the SGA during COVID, coupled with some of the things I got to do outside of school with campaigns and internships were probably a contributing factor in my admission.”

Lay currently works as an economic development planner for the Upper Cumberland Development District and was driving with a colleague when he first learned of his law school acceptance.

“We had left a meeting in McMinnville and were driving back to the office. I got a call from a number in Cambridge, Massachusetts and my heart stopped. It was the dean of admissions saying I had been accepted,” said Lay. “I remember pulling over and celebrating with my co-worker. It was a really fun, sweet moment that I’ll probably remember forever.”

As he looks to the future, Lay says he is still determining what area of law he would like to practice but has his eye on judicial clerkship opportunities. 

“I am really interested in public service,” said Lay. “The ultimate goal is to come back to Tennessee, whether that is in five, 10 or 15 years, and use the skills I will learn to better the communities that I grew up in.” 

Darron Smith, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Agriculture and Human Ecology at Tech, said he “could not be more proud” of Lay’s success.

“Mr. Lay was an outstanding student for the College of Agriculture and Human Ecology here at Tennessee Tech,” said Dean Smith. “His positive impact was felt not only here, but across the entire campus. Earning acceptance to the premier law school in the country is truly an inspiration to the faculty and students in the college. I have no doubt Mr. Lay will continue to represent our college, the university and the state of Tennessee with the passion and dedication he showed when he was our student.”

While Lay says he is “equally excited and terrified” about his upcoming cross-country move, he won’t be making the transition alone. Lay is married to fellow Tech alum Madison Harris Lay. 

“She is super excited about it as well,” said Lay. “She has been my rock throughout this entire process.”

Lay’s first day of classes at Harvard Law School is Aug. 30.

Photo courtesy of Tennessee Tech.

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