On May 20, NYU Law gave the Class of 2021—more than 700 JD, LLM, MSL, and MS recipients—a celebratory send-off in a virtual Convocation ceremony that featured Michigan Chief Justice Bridget McCormack ’91 as keynote speaker. It was an event that acknowledged the stresses of the past year: among them, the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice, political uncertainty. Speakers recognized the new graduates for the strength they had shown in rising to meet unforeseen challenges, and urged them to use that energy and determination to bring positive change to society and the legal system.
“Today I am moved to honor you, Class of 2021, for achievements far more extraordinary than anything we may have expected of you, or you may have expected of yourselves, when you first joined this community,” Dean Trevor Morrison told the graduates. “You have completed your NYU Law education in a state of emergency—a time defined by sustained and compounded crises.”
Student speaker Safeena Mecklai JD ’21 described how, for her classmates, the pandemic had sharpened their qualities of resilience, grit, and advocacy. “We were shaken,” said Mecklai, “but in getting through it, we became the advocates we hoped that law school would make us. I saw affinity groups rise to the challenge of building community, direct service groups and clinics provide meaningful services to those outside of our community most impacted. Student advocates ensured that their peers felt supported, and simultaneously the faculty and administration that have made our experience here meaningful adapted, and found creative ways to make school feel like school.”
Studying at NYU Law in 2020-21 opened new perspectives, said Helen Jennings LLM ’21, recounting how she and her fellow students got to know each other through myriad small windows of a Zoom screen, “filled with evidence of the lives lived by my classmates,” she said. For the LLM students in the Class of 2021, she noted, most of their law school memories took place online. “But these are no less rich as a result,” she added.
“If anything, the caliber of discourse in classroom was increased by the intensity of looking each classmate in the eye as we nervously offered our reading of a case or take on a topic,” Jennings explained. “There was a new level of accountability toward one another. Instincts to play devil’s advocate were tempered by empathy. I hope this care and thoughtfulness stays with us in our careers.”
A range of faculty members and alumni offered their well wishes to the graduates, including Katrina James ’07, Law Alumni Association president; Rafiq Kalam Id-Din, II ’00, Law Alumni of Color Association president; and Zhen Liu LLM ’05, NYU Law International Alumni Advisory Board member.
Several speakers noted that in a turbulent era, with the rule of law under pressure, there is a deep need for able, well-educated lawyers dedicated to upholding the highest standards of the legal profession. “In this time of profound division in our country and our world….it is our shared obligation to repair what is broken, to be the leaders our communities need,” said David Tanner ’84, chair of NYU Law’s board of trustees.
Morrison criticized the role that some lawyers have recently played in promulgating false attacks on the intregrity of the US electoral system. “You have the capacity to lead the profession and the world in a more honorable, ethical, and equitable direction,” he told the graduates. “It is a big task, but you are up to it.”
In fact, a time of crisis and uncertainty offers opportunites for renewal, Justice McCormack said in her remarks. Naming some of the challenges facing the justice system—racial inequality, limited access to justice, excessive incarceration—the justice urged the Class of 2021 to take a leading role in finding solutions. “We need your ideas now,” she said. “Yesterday, really. Make the legal process more accessible, more transparent, more fair, and more kind. Where you can’t improve it, disrupt it.
“Lawyers like you are going to play a critical role in solving the long-standing problems inequity has caused throughout our communities,” McCormack continued. “You have the talent, you have the training. You get to decide how we should do things, and what things we should do, and what things we should stop doing. You are all about to reconsider our justice system, to build one that is not limited by the four walls of a courthouse or the way we have always done things, but one that looks for upstream solutions for people, one that heals.
“I can’t think of anything more hopeful,” McCormack said, “than a class of NYU Law graduates rolling up their sleeves.”
Watch video of the NYU Law 2021 Convocation ceremony here:
Posted May 21, 2021