The NYU School of Law’s 2013 Convocation on May 24 was a true community affair, as graduates and their family and friends gathered to celebrate and hear addresses from two of the Law School's most distinguished citizens: an alumnus who is among the nation's most celebrated trial attorneys, and a faculty member poised to begin a five-year leave as president of a prestigious international teaching and research institute in Italy.
This year’s event, held at the historic Beacon Theatre, also marked the last time that Dean Richard Revesz, who stepped down from his deanship on May 31, would preside over the festivities. His experience, Revesz said at the morning J.D. ceremony, was something like that of a newly minted graduate: “As my tenure ends I share with you that mixed sense of pride regarding what’s been accomplished, relief that it’s over, and more importantly, excitement for what is to come.” He added, “I was inspired to take on the deanship by the entrepreneurial energy and optimism of this wonderful community, and it’s been an immensely rewarding experience to work with the students, faculty members, alumni, and trustees to make this institution as strong as it could be.”
Speaking on behalf of the J.D. graduating class, Cameron Tepfer ’13 made humorous acknowledgment of the poor reputation of lawyers in some quarters, but explained that this bad rap was rooted in misperception. “We represent the liable, the culpable, the guilty,” said Tepfer. “Some of these people have some pretty nasty things to say. Sometimes the things that these people have to say are difficult for us to hear. Sometimes they just want someone, anyone to hear them. But without lawyers these individuals would have no voice at all in our system. Whether they sit in a corporate boardroom or denied bail behind bars, it’s our job as lawyers to make sure that these people are heard.”
David Boies (LL.M. ’67), founder and chairman of Boies, Schiller & Flexner; former partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore; and litigator in such storied cases as Westmoreland v. CBS, United States v. Microsoft, Bush v. Gore, and Hollingsworth v. Perry—the landmark marriage equality case pending before the Supreme Court—delivered the J.D. Convocation address. Just two days earlier, in Yankee Stadium, Boies had given the NYU-wide Commencement address and received an honorary doctorate in law.
Boies reflected on the measurement of success in the legal profession, citing personal contribution to the justice system as perhaps the most important criterion. “The opportunity that the lawyer has is to take [a] case to conclusion and to make the change to the law, to our system of justice, that only can come from our courts,” he said. “It can only be enforced through the law and through lawyers. The law can be written down. It can be in books. The law in the Soviet Union was just like our law. The law in Castro’s Cuba was just like our law. The difference was whether it was enforced by lawyers and by judges.”
Referring to current court challenges to same-sex marriage, Boies observed that, although legally sanctioned discrimination is on the wane, social discrimination still presents serious problems. But, he continued, “If you carry on, and if you build on what people who have gone before you have done, you can really change this country, this society, and the world. The concept of equality is baked into the American soul, but only through the law do you make that promise a reality. Only through the law did we end racial segregation. Only through the law are we going to achieve marriage equality. And only through the law means only through lawyers.”
Boies made a final point that trustworthiness is an essential quality for an attorney. “If you look at the people who are successful in this profession, it is not the people who are the smartest,” he said. “It’s not even the people who work hardest. It’s the people who are most trusted. Your integrity, your credibility is your biggest asset, and when you go to court it is your biggest weapon.”
Continuing an annual tradition begun in 2004, Alison Puente-Douglass ’13 and Hannah Rodgers ’13, co-chairs of the Class Gift Committee, presented Anthony Welters ’77, chair of the Law School’s Board of Trustees, with the Class of 2013 gift, which totaled more than $34,000. “Our gift sends a powerful message to alumni, our peer schools, and the legal community that we feel strongly enough about our time at the Law School to give back even before we begin our careers,” said Puente-Douglass. In the afternoon, Aaron Gaynor (LL.M. ’13) and José Antonio Batista De Moura Ziebarth (LL.M. ’13) made the presentation of the class gift on behalf of the graduating LL.M. and J.S.D. students.
LL.M. and J.S.D. students heard from student speaker Rivana Mezaya (LL.M. ’13), a Hauser Global Scholar and a Fulbright Fellow, who hails from Indonesia, where she attended the University of Indonesia with a focus on public international law. In her speech, Mezaya remarked on the number of extraordinary events that she and her classmates experienced in the year they spent in New York City. “We are a class who survived a hurricane, a blackout, and a never-ending winter,” she said, noting that they also witnessed a series of key moments in American politics, from an election, to a renewed debate over gun control, to the worry about the fiscal cliff.
Mezaya also recalled a banner that she once saw at an international moot competition, which read “In the future, world leaders will look at each other differently because they first met here as friends.” Mezaya commented that she found this idea particularly appropriate to describe her experience as an LL.M. student at NYU Law, where her classmates come from all across the world. “Now we all are able to put faces to countries’ names,” she said.
Renowned international law scholar and University Professor Joseph Weiler, Joseph Straus Professor of Law and European Union Jean Monnet Chaired Professor, praised the gathered LL.M. and J.S.D. students, many of whom are not American, for their decision to combine legal educations from their home countries with U.S. training, for what he called “the finest of legal educations.”
In his speech, Weiler also gave a close reading of a passage from Genesis 18, which he described as “one of the founding moments of the development of the notion of justice in Western Civilization” and also “one of the most remarkable negotiations in legal history.” In the passage, Abraham asks God, who is about to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, whether God would also destroy the righteous with the wicked. Parsing the passage, Weiler argued that since Abraham has not yet received divine instruction in the ways of justice, he is presumed to know it in his very constitution as a human being. “In real life… we typically know what is the right moral choice,” Weiler told the gathered students. “The problem is not to know what I should do but to have the courage to do that which I know is the right thing to do.”
Weiler closed his remarks with a few comments about the transformative experience of living in New York City. Weiler, like many of the LL.M. graduates, is departing, in his case to serve a five-year term as president of the European University Institute in Florence. He noted that one can live a lifetime in Paris or Florence, two cities that he has lived in and loved, but never be considered a true Parisian or Florentine. With New York City, however, “The first day you come, you fall in love and say, ‘I’m a New Yorker,’ and,” he said, gesturing to the gathered students, “you are.”
Posted on June 3, 2013