On May 20, the NYU School of Law observed two firsts as it held its 2011 graduation exercises. It was the first time that the Law School’s annual Convocation took place at the historic Beacon Theatre on the Upper West Side, as well as the first year in which NYU Law staged separate ceremonies for J.D. recipients and those earning postgraduate degrees.

Law School ConvocationAddressing the J.D. candidates, Dean Richard Revesz reflected on the dramatic world events that had occurred during their three years of law school, including revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East, the tsunami and its aftereffects in Japan, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and global economic turmoil.

“It’s into that cheery place that we now send all of you,” said Revesz. “How’s that for an uplifting thought? But actually, I think that’s why you came to law school. You’re becoming lawyers precisely because the world is full of problems that need to be solved. You’re entering a world of upheaval, but you’re well equipped to handle those challenges.”

Anthony Welters ’77, chair of the Law School’s Board of Trustees, told the story of a recently deceased African American alumnus who became a judge in Alabama and helped civil rights leaders working for change in that state. “You’re standing on the shoulders of others,” he said. “That first teacher who helped to give you values. Those individuals who, on bad days, showed up and were supportive of you.... You are living proof that America’s best days are ahead of it.”

Noam BialeClass speaker Noam Biale ’11 embodied that ideal. A Root-Tilden-Kern Scholar who worked for the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project in Jordan and for the Equal Justice and Capital Defender Clinic in New York and Alabama, Biale spoke about the need to look at seemingly intractable problems in innovative ways: “For those of us who came to law school hoping to shine a light on injustice, the world looks increasingly dark, so we will need bold new thinking.... Luckily, NYU has exposed us to people and ideas that continue to challenge the narrative despite the odds.”

Martin Lipton ’55, chair of New York University’s Board of Trustees and a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz as well as a Root-Tilden alumnus, addressed the graduating class. He reflected on his own career path and his involvement in challenges the Law School has faced in recent decades, including the sale of a macaroni company that provided NYU Law with much of its endowment. Those proceeds, Lipton said, formed “the base on which the next three deans—Norman Redlich, John Sexton, and Ricky Revesz—have built the best law school in the world and the best law school faculty in the world.”

At the postgraduate ceremony, class speaker Francis Chukwu (LL.M. ’11), who graduated first in his class from the University of Nigeria Faculty of Law, recalled co-founding Afritude, a student discussion forum about history, news, and events shaping Africa.

“From the day we had our first session to the day we had our last,” said Chukwu, “I never ceased to be amazed at the interest and empathy shown by participants, about 80 percent of whom were non-Africans, in the history, the cause of justice, human rights, development, democracy, and responsible governance in Africa. My faith that we could help nurture one another’s dreams to succeed has only waxed stronger. I believe that this strong sense of support and encouragement for one another will, in no small measure, define our success in our professional lives.”

Appropriate to a graduating class whose students hailed from all over the globe, the address was delivered by a world leader: Leonel Fernández, president of the Dominican Republic. Known for his extensive reform efforts in his home country, Fernández, who spent his childhood in New York City and had spoken at NYU Law twice before, cited the rapidly changing global landscape, encompassing the world economy, the environment, democratization, and the need to give emerging countries a more prominent place at the table.

“At this moment in history, mankind is at a crossroads,” said Fernández. “For the pessimists, we are approaching doomsday. For others like us, however, we have never doubted the creative capacity of the human race. This is an exhilarating and challenging period which must result in a new wave of prosperity, social justice, development, and transformation.”

Posted on May 24, 2011