Evan Chesler ’75 urges alumni to pay it forward at Weinfeld Gala

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s iconic Temple of Dendur was aglow in NYU violet as NYU Law alumni, faculty, and administrators gathered on March 21 for the Weinfeld Gala. The yearly event celebrates members of the Weinfeld Program, the alumni and friends of the Law School who have led in generous commitments to the Annual Fund. David Tanner ’84, chair of NYU Law’s Board of Trustees, welcomed attendees, thanking them for helping to “empower our students to become not only great lawyers but also great leaders in the law and in our society.”

For his first Weinfeld Gala as dean, Troy McKenzie ’00 expressed his gratitude to those assembled for their support in recruiting the best students and supporting those students with a strong faculty and community. “NYU is a special place,” said McKenzie, adding, “We are always seeking to make it better, to make it the best it can be, but we do so with a sense of purpose and a sense of joy.”

Damaris Hernández ’07, a former AnBryce Scholar and the first Latina partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, introduced Evan Chesler ’75, the recipient of this year’s Weinfeld Award. Named for celebrated alumnus Judge Edward Weinfeld (1921), LLM 1924, the award recognizes distinguished alumni who show exceptional dedication to NYU Law—and Chesler, Hernández said, certainly fits that description.

View a gallery of photos of the event:


Hernández described herself as “kvelling” over Chesler’s award, using a Yiddish word for being joyfully proud. Hernández briefly described Chesler’s trajectory: a boy from the Bronx who sold hot dogs at Yankee Stadium, Chesler won an NYU scholarship at 16, worked to pay the rest of his tuition, was inducted into the Order of the Coif, and clerked at the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. He made partner at Cravath in six years, and went on to become the firm’s head of litigation, presiding partner, and chairman. Chesler has for decades been active within the NYU Law community as an adjunct professor, advisor, and board member; he will soon chair NYU’s Board of Trustees.

Hernández recalled meeting Chesler as a summer associate at Cravath. Chesler, who had also been a first-generation law student, soon became a confidant, coach, therapist, and sponsor of her success, Hernández said. 

“Not only did he make me a more capable lawyer; he made me a better person,” she said, adding, “He instilled in me the responsibility of doing good and effecting change, serving as an example and providing guidance to those behind you on a similar path.”

After McKenzie made the formal award presentation, it was Chesler’s turn to speak. He remembered his boyhood in the Bronx, when he realized that there were two groups of people in the world: insiders and outsiders. “This law school was the place that opened the door for me to come inside,” he said.

But with those privileges, he said, came two important responsibilities. One is that lawyers must act as first responders when the rule of law is in jeopardy. “At every step along the way,” he said, “whenever our democracy has been challenged, it is the lawyers who have come forward and have done the things that were necessary so that democracy survived whatever that challenge was.”

The second responsibility, Chesler said, is to pay forward. He recalled that NYU gave him a scholarship that changed his life, even though the University was on the verge of bankruptcy at the time. He asked each member of the audience to change the trajectory of just one person’s life: “If you think about the cascade effect that that can have…we’d have a much better place in which our children and our grandchildren will grow up.”

Posted April 13, 2023; updated September 1, 2023