Graduating students hear from a mayor, a prime minister, and a UN under-secretary-general

On May 18, graduating NYU Law students gathered at the historic Beacon Theatre for the Law School's 2012 convocation. Trumpeters heralded the entrance of students into the theater, and afterwards the law faculty marched in behind ceremonial bagpipe players. After taking their seats, the Class of 2012 heard from an inspiring range of speakers that included a mayor, a prime minister, and a high-ranking figure at the U.N.

Dean Richard Revesz opened the J.D. ceremony with an exhortation for students to use their acquired skills, knowledge, and analytical ability to better the world they are entering. “We live in times of extraordinary change and upheaval,” Revesz said. “You are becoming lawyers precisely because the world is full of problems that need to be solved.” Revesz noted, however, that many of the Class of 2012 have already started working to change the world, from students volunteering at the new Center for Constitutional Transitions, to those who worked with the Immigrants Right Clinic to spur major policy changes.

Anthony Foxx '96The J.D. class speaker, Philip Kovoor '12, explained that he decided to go to law school when he realized that his childhood dream of being a superhero might not work out. However, he added, “over the past few years, we have walked among real life superheroes.” Kovoor urged the members of the graduating class to follow in the footsteps of mentors such as Professors Bryan Stevenson and Rachel Barkow, as well as the late Professor Derrick Bell. “Now, more than ever, the world needs you and your superpowers,” he said. “We will be expected to speak up when others are silent, to give voice to the voiceless, and to do the right thing even when it’s the hard thing.”

Drawing on examples from his own career as the youngest mayor in the history of Charlotte, North Carolina, and the second African American to ever hold the office, Anthony Foxx '96 urged the J.D. candidates to follow their passions as they leave behind the walls of a university. “I hope that your career as lawyers is just as filled with passion… that when you’re directed along a course, that you stay stubborn,” Foxx said. “Take the skills you have and the passion you have and make a difference.”

Following the address by Foxx, Gerardo Gomez Galvis ’12 and Elana B. Wilf ’12 presented Chairman of the New York University School of Law Foundation Anthony Welters ’77 with the Class of 2012 gift. This year's class gift totals more than $120,000, and the class has broken records with an unprecedented number of Weinfeld Fellows. Later, during the afternoon LL.M. ceremony, Catherine Karayan (LL.M. '12) had the opportunity to present the class gift before the graduate audience.

The afternoon ceremony featured two dynamic speakers with a global perspective: Patricia O’Brien, the United Nations’ under-secretary-general for legal affairs and legal counsel, and Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar of Trinidad and Tobago.

O'Brien urged the graduating students to follow the examples of their illustrious predecessors. “The men and women of NYU Law have changed the history of this city, this country, and the world,” O’Brien said, naming alumni from Elihu Root of the Class of 1867, who went on to serve as a U.S. senator and secretary of state, to Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohammed ElBaradei (LL.M. '71, J.S.D. '74, LL.D. '04). O'Brien then asked, "And what will we see from the Class of 2012?"

Persad-Bissessar emphasized the importance of entering the legal field with an understanding of the evolving, global nature of the law. “We as citizens of different countries are now neighbors in a global village brought together by politics, business, employment, inter-country relations, education, and technology,” she said, arguing that globalization has had a significant impact on the legal landscape.

“Law is changing," Persad-Bissessar said. “It is for you to give deep thought to how you intend to place yourselves into that changing environment; take hold of the change you wish to see, and achieve the change.  Law is changing, but the pursuit of justice remains our sacred ideal.”

Posted May 22, 2012