Equipped to Lead and Succeed

Commencement Ceremony Celebrates, Inspires Graduates

The graduates included 223 students who received Juris Doctor degrees, four students who received Juris Doctor and Master of Business Administration degrees, eight students who received a Master of Laws in International Transactions and Comparative Law, and eight students who received a Master of Laws in Intellectual Property and Technology Law.

The commencement address and honorary degree recipient was Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit legal organization in Montgomery, Ala., that works on behalf of indigent defendants, death row inmates, and juveniles. A professor at New York University School of Law and recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Award, Stevenson is among the country's leading critics of the death penalty.

"We need people not content with their status, but who embrace their identity as a person who does justice, " Stevenson told the graduates in a stirring address that ended in a prolonged standing ovation. "If you do that, you can change the world."

He went on to remind the graduates of the power of their words. "I came to urge you to work for justice, to be prepared to say something. It's a daunting challenge. There will be all kinds of pressures to be quiet, pressures to fill your material needs. But we need to be hopeful about the way we can change the world. I will warn you that if you choose to say something, you will get tired....So please, exhaust yourselves in the pursuit of justice."

During the commencement ceremony, student Eric Weisner received the Academic Excellence Award and Hannah Seigel received the Pursuit of Justice Award. Student speaker Phyra McCandless told her fellow graduates that personal relationships are the cornerstones of life in the law. "The relationships we take with us today will inform our work," she said. "Personal relationships are the fertile soil from which all achievements in life grow."

When Dean Jeff Brand addressed the graduates, he recounted the thoughts about law and life he received in emails from graduating students. "You filled my inbox with moving, powerful words, speaking of challenges you overcame, skills you acquired, and the responsibility that comes with the degree you have worked so hard to earn. Your collective wisdom is a primer on why skilled, ethical lawyering is so critical to the well-being of society."

Brand concluded by reminding the graduates of the importance of the career they are undertaking: "It is said there are too many lawyers in the world. To that I say, just ask the underrepresented inmate on death row or the spouse in the midst of a horrible family dispute seeking compassionate, capable counsel, or the business person trying to make a good, ethical decision. There will never be too many lawyers in the world if they have your resolve, your insight, and exhibit the qualities that are the signature statement of the class of 2008."