Nelson Fellowships celebrate 15th anniversary at US District Court in Boston

He was only in high school, and life could not get much tougher.

Kevin Copson was at Boston Latin Academy when five family members had died within a seven-month period, including his father.

“It was a time in my life where I felt I didn’t have any opportunities,’’ he said in a recent interview.

But Copson, now 21, and a criminal justice student at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, credits the Judge David S. Nelson Fellowship at US District Court in Boston for helping him rebound and gain a new sense of confidence.

Copson, who attended the fellowship between his junior and senior years in 2007, joined other fellows and federal judges in a ceremony last week marking the program’s 15th anniversary.

The program, named in honor of the first African-American appointed to a federal judgeship in Massachusetts, assigns high school students to work with judges during the summer vacation. They attend court proceedings, participate in day-to-day work in judges’ chambers, and attend classes on topics such as writing, public speaking and civil rights. They also meet community leaders and lawyers throughout the state.

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The program concludes with a mock trial, in which the fellows compete against the state court’s Judicial Youth Corp.

“It was always to encourage high school students and recognize they had real potential,’’ US District Court Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf said at the ceremony last week.

He added in a statement, “It teaches the federal judges a lot about the communities we serve. It is also a fine, living memorial to Massachusetts’ first federal judge of color.’’

The program started with Boston schools and expanded to include students from Springfield, Worcester and Brockton. More than 170 students have gone through the program since 1996, and many have gone on to colleges including Columbia University and Bowdoin University.

“It really gave us chances to express our selves, and it showed us that at horrible times, we can succeed,’’ said Copson, who was introduced to the program when he first expressed interest in law and law enforcement.

He added: “The people who run it care for you, and give you the tools to succeed.’’

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