The Rising Star Alumni Award
This award recognizes an accomplished graduate of the past 10 years for significant contributions to and leadership in the recipient’s profession, community and/or Ursinus College.
Anthony “Tony” Sierzega, Class of 2015, is staff attorney with the Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. in Wilmington, Delaware. In their Fair Housing and Disabilities Law Program, Tony represents underserved community members at no cost.
Tony earned his law degree from the Temple University Beasley School of Law. He graduated magna cum laude as a Law and Public Policy Scholar. During his time at Temple, Tony worked for several service-based nonprofits and government organizations. In the summer of 2016, he was a law clerk at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development performing legislative research. For the next two years, he interned at Temple, first with the Sheller Center for Social Justice and then with the Legal Aid Office. In these internships, Anthony represented domestic workers in wage theft cases, clients with chronic illness and disabilities, and clients in Foreclosure Diversion Court.
From 2016 to 2018, Tony worked at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the Office of Civil Rights. He spent the summer of 2017 interning in the office of Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. He then worked as a legal fellow for the Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Coalition, where he developed policy recommendations for the Coalition’s syringe decriminalization and safe injection site initiatives.
At Ursinus, Tony was a first-generation college student who double-majored in politics and history and was active and engaged in a number of groups. He was president of the Student Government. He was a captain on the track and field team, a CIE Fellow, and a member of several honor societies: Cub and Key Society, the Haines Barnard Pre Legacy Society, and the Phi Alpha Theta History Society. Tony received two academic awards for his undergraduate work: the George Ditter Prize, given to students who excel in history and political science, and the Robert Trucksees Prize, awarded to a Pre-Law student who shows unusual promise.
Tony currently lives in Philadelphia. He’s an active alumnus and maintains friendships born at UC. He also stays connected to Ursinus through his mom Jackie, who has been a beloved staff member in the advancement office since 2013.
Q&A with Tony Sierzega ’15:
How is winning an Ursinus Alumni Award significant for you personally and professionally?
I appreciate receiving this award because it shows Ursinus’ value of and commitment to fighting for economic and racial justice. Anti-poverty work is hard. Far too often it feels like the system is stacked against the clients that I represent. Being a legal aid housing attorney means that every day is a struggle against those who deny a simple truth: housing is a human right. This award serves as an affirmation that whatever difficulty I experience both professionally and personally, this work is worth it.
How did Ursinus College instill a desire to serve your communities?
My friend Reverend Charles Rice once shared a quote from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel that I frequently reflect upon. “Pray with your feet.” That’s what Ursinus’ liberal arts education means to me. Critically thinking about what is worthy of our prayers, and then graduating and getting on our feet to turn those thoughts into action.
In my political philosophy courses with Professors Paul Stern and Jonathan Marks, we asked the questions, “what is the good,” “what is justice,” and “what is love.” Those questions led to countless hours ruminating on dismantling injustice. To do that, we need to take action. We need to pray with our feet.
Why has giving back to Ursinus been important to you?
The first time I studied inequalities like police brutality and redlining was in an introductory history course. And then the Ferguson uprisings and the murder of Eric Gardner happened. Being on the track team and living with my best friends, a multiracial group who made me proximate to the actual pain experienced by Black Americans for the first time. I was no longer just reading about it. Without the support of those who give back to Ursinus, it is likely that none of us would have been brought together to better inform and shape our political commitments. When I give back, I hope I’m helping create that opportunity for others.
What was your proudest UC moment?
Defending my honors thesis. In one summer and in our weekly meetings during my fourth year, Professor Gerard Fitzpatrick taught me constitutional law and the politics of how law works. I have used what I learned from him during this research project in all of my advocacy since.
As a very close second, I have to include winning the Centennial Conference Indoor Track and Field 4X400 Meter relay with three of my best friends, Darius Jones, Andrew Mackin, and Richard Schulz. They did most of the work.
What advice do you have for students and fellow young alumni on how to persevere in a challenging job market and economy?
Prior to starting at Community Legal Aid Society, I was scared about my job prospects. I had just lost out on a fellowship opportunity at another legal aid organization in Philadelphia, and I was terrified that I was going to have to settle for a job that did not align with my values. By nature, I am not an optimist and it was hard to stay hopeful while looking for a job. But I think of these words from civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson: “Hopelessness is the enemy of justice. Injustice prevails where hopelessness persists. And so, hope is our requirement.” In a job market and economy as unpredictable as ours, and particularly when searching for a job in service, I don’t share this quote as some cheery call for optimism and persistence. It is just worth doing.
Previous Rising Star Alumni Award recipients:
2019: Elizabeth Cannon ’10
2018: Kelly Becker ’10
2017: Jeffrey Teigler ’07
2016: Ghadir Ishqaidef ’05