As parents, professors, and graduating students converged on Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden for NYU Commencement and NYU Law Convocation, the Class of 2018 had a chance to celebrate their achievements with the extended Law School community, which gathered to wish them well as they began the next chapters of their careers.

When members of the graduating class were asked to reflect upon their time at NYU Law, that sense of community was a theme in the anecdotes and memories they shared. “NYU Law is a community not just of students, but of classmates and colleagues—people who really care about each other,” said Ryan Sila ’18. “It’s a unique kind of atmosphere that NYU fosters for us.” George Harris ’18 recalled how he and the other students in his section posed for a group photo in their class at the end of their first year. “As hard as 1L is, you really get to know the rest of your classmates really well,” he said. “Just spending that time with them meant a lot to me.”

“I had a lot of really amazing women professors. I learned from Melissa Murray, Jeanne Fromer and I got to work with Florencia Marotta-Wurgler [’01],” said Caitlin Millat ’18. “They’re really role models for me for my career and my personal aspirations, and they’ve all been strong advocates for me and helped me every step of the way.”

Of course, some of the most memorable experiences took place outside of the classroom: “My 1L year there was a big snow storm, and in the middle of the night we just all went to Washington Square Park and had a snowball fight, and it was the best,” Alyssa DeRosa ’18 remembered.

Prishika Raj LLM’18 particularly enjoyed the variety of events and speakers she was able to see during her year-long degree program. “Seeing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg come to the Law School was really amazing,” she said. “Every time there was an event, everybody always seemed to join together with a really collegiate feeling.”

The Class of 2018 demonstrated their commitment to the ongoing NYU Law community with the class gift, which Alice Thai ’18 presented to outgoing Law School board chair Anthony Welters ’77 at JD Convocation and which Emiliano Falcon LLM ’18 presented to Dean Trevor Morrison. As of Convocation Day, the student initiative had raised over $103,000, with 229 JD and LLM donors, and a record-breaking 38 new Weinfeld Fellows were initiated into the Weinfeld Program, the Law School’s most prestigious donor recognition society.

During the University Commencement, students heard from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who emphasized the importance of looking beyond one’s own experience: “As you go forward from this place, I would like you to make a point of reaching out to people whose beliefs and values differ from your own,” he said. “I would like you to listen to them, to truly listen, and try to understand them, and find that common ground.”

In speeches at both JD and LLM/JSD Convocation, Dean Morrison encouraged graduating students to think beyond the letter of the law to consider what is right as they counsel clients and solve problems during their legal careers. “The very ubiquity of the law can sometimes generate the notion that as long as a particular course of action is not illegal, it must be sound…. I hope you will resist this kind of thinking,” Morrison said. “Solving the most difficult problems in the world today,” he added, “requires more than simply adhering to the formal limits of the law. It requires asking—and doing our best to answer—questions about what solutions are not only legal but also sound as a matter of policy, not only legal but also ethical, not only legal but also just.”

Professor Bryan Stevenson, who was celebrated at NYU Commencement with an honorary doctorate, was also the keynote speaker at JD Convocation. In a moving and heartfelt speech, Stevenson spoke about his work with death row inmates and his efforts to change the narrative of racial difference in America. In all of his work, he said, he has discovered that in order to make a difference in society, it is necessary to get close to those who do not have access to justice. “No matter where you go or what you do, you will have the opportunity to do justice for people,” he said, “and proximity is the key to how you do it.”

In relating a story of a client on death row whose execution he tried—and failed—to stop, Stevenson recalled asking himself: “Why do we want to kill all the broken people?” The justice system is broken, he said, in part because those in power are unwilling to “get proximate” to those who are suffering. But Stevenson said, “it is in brokenness that we actually understand how we get to justice… that we appreciate the power of redemption and rehabilitation.”

He continued: “Don’t ever think that your grades are a measure of your capacity to change the world, because they’re not…. Don’t ever think your income is a measure of the capacity to change the world, because it’s not.” Instead, he called on students to get proximate, change narratives of racial difference, find hope, and work to create a more just world.

In his address to the LLM class, Strive Masiyiwa, founder and executive chairman of the pan-African telecommunications, media, and technology company, Econet, discussed the global importance of a career in law by drawing upon his experience in bringing an appeal at the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe. The landmark suit, which removed the state’s monopoly on telecommunications, dramatically increased telephone access for Zimbabweans.

“The law is a rule for transformative change,” he said. “You will face many battles, but the work you do is extremely important. Do not be afraid of using the tools that you have been taught here in this fine institution to do the right thing.”

Video of Professor Bryan Stevenson's full remarks to the Class of 2018:

Video of Strive Masiyiwa's full remarks to the Class of 2018: 

Posted May 22, 2018