After finishing their last Law School papers and exams, but before sitting for the bar, the Class of 2017 was able to breathe a collective sigh of relief and turn to more festive matters: celebrating the achievement of graduating from NYU School of Law. As their families and friends gathered for NYU Commencement at Yankee Stadium and NYU Law Convocation at Madison Square Garden, the students also had a chance to reflect on their time at the Law School and the memories, achievements, and lessons they will bring with them as they embark on the next stages of their careers.
“I found a physical, spiritual, and mental home here at NYU with the social justice community, and I think that was reinforced by the number of clinics that there were, the amazing advocates that are here, and the faculty that’s supportive of people pursuing public interest careers,” said John Cusick ’17. “All of my friends were super supportive—even if we were applying to the same things—looking at cover letters, giving each other tips about interviews. Having that level of collaboration and support among the students is something you don’t really expect to find at law school. I love NYU for that.”
For Julian Pymento ’17, the opportunities afforded by his involvement with various student groups were especially memorable. “Certain organizations like the Social Entrepreneurship and Startup Law Association, the JD/MBA Association, and the Asian Law Society had trips abroad that allowed me to learn more about how our law fits in the context of international law,” he said.
This graduating class was particularly inspired to give back to their alma mater. At the JD ceremony, Samantha Coxe ’17 presented the Class of 2017 gift to Anthony Welters ’77, chairman of the Board of NYU School of Law, while at the LLM/JSD ceremony, Mellissa Passman LLM ’17 presented the gift to Law Alumni Association President Joe Ehrlich ’97. The combined JD and LLM/JSD classes raised $84,000 from over 200 students, and added 37 Weinfeld Fellows to the Weinfeld Program—the highest number of new Weinfeld Fellows in class gift history.
Thinking about her time at the Law School, Coxe placed particular importance on the community she found. “One of the great things that comes to mind about going to NYU Law is the diversity and the inclusion in the student body—not only the diversity in students’ backgrounds, but also in beliefs, pursuits, and goals,” she said. “I think that NYU Law does an amazing job of bringing in the most varied intellectual people, and really fostering a sense of comradery and supporting us every step of the way.”
At NYU Commencement, Welters, who is also vice chairman of the NYU Board of Trustees and a trustee of NYU Langone Medical Center, was in turn honored for his service to NYU Law and the University at large and received the Albert Gallatin Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Society. Carl Weisbrod ’68, former chairman of the New York City Planning Commencement and a senior fellow at NYU’s Marron Institute of Urban Management, received the Lewis Rudin Award for Exemplary Service to New York City in recognition of his transformative role in the economic development of the city over the past four decades. Graduating students in attendance at Yankee Stadium also had the chance to hear from the University’s graduation speaker: musician, songwriter, and producer Pharrell Williams, who was the 2015 NYU Tisch School of the Arts artist-in-residence.
At NYU Law Convocation the following day, Dean Trevor Morrison spoke to both the JD and LLM/JSD Class of 2017, remarking that regardless of their post-graduate plans, the graduates would now have an opportunity to help sustain the rule of law in the US and abroad. “At times like these, it is worth emphasizing that the rule of law is not inevitable,” he said. “As lawyers, you are the load-bearing walls of our legal institutions.”
Graduating students reflected on how they already had the opportunity to begin to serve as these “load-bearing walls” during their time at the Law School. Yilu Zhang ’17 was grateful that in her third year, she decided to participate in the Technology Law and Policy Clinic. “It was just a wonderful opportunity to engage with the law in a different way outside of the normal classroom setting,” she said. “The peers that I engaged with and the faculty and clients that I had the privilege of working with really expanded my horizons and shaped how as I am as a lawyer in a way I couldn’t have accessed otherwise.”
Another student noted that he had a chance to do something in law school that few lawyers get to do during the course of their careers: “Arguing in front of Justice Elena Kagan for the Marden Moot Court last year was a neat opportunity,” said Gabriel Panek ’17. “I don’t know where else but law school you would have the ability to do such a thing—except before the Supreme Court. But you have to go to law school first to get there.”
During the Convocation ceremonies, Rhidaya Trivedi ’17 and Anna Scholten LLM ’17 acted as the Law School’s student voices. Trivedi encouraged her classmates to work toward “a world of restoration, less retribution,” and reminded them of the importance in seeking to understand those with different opinions. Scholten, noting that the world had changed drastically during the one year that the LLM class spent at the Law School, nevertheless praised what she described as the “violet optimism” that she found at NYU Law during a time when many are concerned about the state of law and democracy throughout the world.
In his address to the JD class, Judge Raymond Lohier ’91 of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit spoke of his background as an immigrant from Canada as well as his father’s experience as an exile from Haiti who ventured to Canada. “The story of our country, the United States, is the story of the exile,” said Lohier, pointing to the exile of the puritans from England to America as well as the exile of Native Americans from the lands that were taken from them. “It is a story that should inspire all of us in this room today to prize diversity and inclusion.” Lohier also observed that American democracy is still young. To the graduating students, he said: “In this country change is still possible. And you can change it for the better.”
Ambassador David Pressman ’04 encouraged the Class of 2017 to work toward effecting change on a personal scale. A human rights lawyer who has served as the United States ambassador to the United Nations for special political affairs, Pressman recently transitioned out of government and into a role as a partner at Boies Schiller Flexner. In order to change the system from the inside, he said, lawyers must find small and unexpected opportunities to influence people who may not share their views. “Engage people who disagree with you,” Pressman urged. “And strive to make them, like you, into a force for justice.”
Posted May 23, 2017