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Law School grads are urged to celebrate and inspire their sense of community

The mood matched the perfect weather at Stanford Law School's Class of 2013 graduation ceremony on Saturday, June 15, where the sun was out, the laughter flowed easily, and a sense of camaraderie and community was in the air. 

Grad ImagesDean M. Elizabeth Magill at podium

Dean M. Elizabeth Magill speaking at the Stanford Law School graduation ceremony on Saturday.

M. Elizabeth Magill, Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean, welcomed the 1,500 or so family and friends of the JD and Advanced Degree recipients to the ceremony at Canfield Courtyard and introduced the first of two student speakers, Olivia Henrietta Claire Jackson, who was selected by the international students to deliver remarks.

Noting that this was one of the largest international classes that the Law School has had, Jackson ticked off the ways in which they had been immersed in American culture during their stay in Palo Alto – some forming rock bands, others learning beach volleyball or cheerleading at football games, one Chinese student even joining the Stanford marching band.

Jackson marveled at the close ties she and her classmates had formed with international and American students alike – and the globalization of the Stanford Law community.

"We have all served as ambassadors here for our own countries and leave now as ambassadors for the law school. Ambassadors don't just provide insights into local cultures and the detail of otherwise incomprehensible local law; they also make you feel at home. You have welcomed us into your community. I invite you now to allow us to reciprocate your welcome. Know that you can call on friends and colleagues scattered across the world."

Next up was Matthew Francis Ferraro, selected by the JD students to speak. He asked, "What does it mean to have a shared history as members of the Class of 2013?"

"We all could have gone to different law schools or gone to law school at different times. But some design of providence, or some design of [Associate Dean of Admissions] Faye Deal – and I'm not always sure there's a difference between the two – brought us all together at this place at this time." He spoke about shared experiences, the challenges of legal study, the way in which common bonds developed through personal loss and triumph, through course work and programs, and about how the class was shaped by that history too.

Ferraro said, "I came to law school at 28. And I thought I was pretty well formed and pretty stubborn. But as I prepared for this speech, one of the most remarkable things I realized was that over the past three years I've changed. And I realized I've changed because of all of you. Being surrounded by colleagues of such intelligence and experience – from soldiers to sailors, marines to airmen, scholars to bankers, human rights activists to teachers, journalists to scientists, and so many more – has given me new perspectives on things I thought I knew and made me realize, in a very humbling way, the many things that I don't know. And maybe, just maybe, somewhere along the way I even learned to 'think like a lawyer.' "

Grad ImagesOlivia Henrietta Claire Jackson at podium speaking at the Stanford Law School ceremony.

Olivia Henrietta Claire Jackson, an Advanced Degree recipient, speaking at the Stanford Law School graduation ceremony.

Class co-presidents Camille Latoya Fletcher and Alexander Douglas Westerfield  presented the awards for 2013. James Allen Aiken Klonoski received the Dean's Award for Excellence in Service to Stanford Law School and Chidel Onuegbu, associate director of student affairs, received the Staff Appreciation Award.

Fletcher next presented the John Bingham Hurlbut Award for Excellence in Teaching to Robert Weisberg, JD '79, Edwin E. Huddleson, Jr. Professor of Law. Weisberg has received the honor three times.

"We start with the obligatory reminder that commencement means not an end but a beginning. Here we have what logicians call the semantic fallacy. What kind of beginning is so drenched in tearful farewells?" Weisberg asked the crowd. He spoke about how over the last few decades law students at Stanford have changed and become more diverse and wide-ranging in their interests.

"The study of law has become more interdisciplinary and our students are better at it. … In just one day I can find myself learning from students how the esoterica of computer technology and deep principles of philosophy might inform how we devise rules of privacy, and on the same day other students might update me on just how they devised a strategy to win a 1538 suppression argument, then a 995 dismissal in an 11350 case in a high-volume local court. I know that just saying those statute numbers with a knowing edginess is itself a joy to you."

Weisberg reached back several years to when these new graduates first applied to Stanford Law School, referencing a few of their law school application essays and noting how diverse their experiences had been before they came to law school. He also predicted that their careers in law would be likewise diverse.

"If your paths to law school were so indirect, even circuitous, why should your paths from law school be fixed and linear?  Your essays were stories of change. So, remain open to change and be prepared to be buffeted by it. Be in the moment when job or personal change happens, but also step back and watch it happen. Sometimes we look back and things that looked accidental appear to have had some destiny about them. But the reverse is perhaps more telling. Sometimes we look back to the nature and consequences of choices and appreciate how accidental the occasion or the consequence of those choices has been."

Dean Magill closed the ceremony with the traditional charge to the class.  She charged the graduates to remember the opportunities their training made available to them and also asked that they critically reflect on the limits of that training. First she reminded them of the promise of law and of legal training. 

"At the loftiest level, law is a substitute for force as a way of resolving disputes. A society that respects law uses it as a check on both the force of the state and the power of individuals. It's no accident that the first order of business for leaders of a military coup is dissolving or otherwise disabling courts or other bodies that impose legal constraints on the state. Nor is it an accident that, in the absence of functioning legal systems, the physically powerful, the brutal, and the fiendishly clever dominate others."

Magill spoke about this noble heart of the law and the profession, and how each of the graduating students would be part of that as they pursued their careers.  "I ask that you remember that there is something grand about that … in doing those jobs, you will be taking part in, and supporting, a system that respects law and reason over force."

This lofty ideal of the law is sometimes difficult to remember, Magill admitted, but she told the graduates that following the work of their classmates would help them do so.  "Those of you who will use your talent and training to very directly advance rule by law where it is most threatened will remind us all … of that noble heart of the law.  And you will also be my personal heroes.  And I know that I am not alone."

Magill then asked the graduates to critically reflect on the risks of a life in the law.  "Do not allow your thinking like a lawyer, as much as it has become a part of you, to squash all else inside of yourself.   … Do not have critical distance when someone asks you to spend the rest of your life with them," she said.   "In your professional lives, " she encouraged, "sometimes go with your gut; and don't ignore your heart when it tells you the rules, the system, are stupid or unfair."  

Magill's final plea was that the graduates take what is special about Stanford Law School with them to their new places in the world.  She shared that in the lead up to this day she had spoken with several graduating students, and had asked them to describe their time at Stanford Law School. Innovative, open, intelligent, spirited, charitable, energetic, committed, fun, and, beautiful were often repeated—but two words stood out  – inspiring and community.

"I think the rest of the world could use a little of what we have at Stanford Law School. When you head out, could you make a point to bring with you a little of what we have here to your new place? … Help create a community that really feels like one. Be part of a place that inspires its members. … If you can carry some of this place with you elsewhere, you will make the world a better place."