On May 20, Case Western Reserve University School of Law marked the 131st year since its founding with a Commencement ceremony for the Class of 2023. The graduating class consisted of 120 JDs, 84 Master students and 18 SJDs from 25 States and 11 countries.
Twenty years after her own graduation from Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Michele Connell, Global Managing Partner of international law firm Squire Patton Boggs, was the featured graduation speaker. She opened with a quote from Justice Louis Brandeis, who served on the US Supreme Court from 1916 to 1939.
“The legal profession is “an occupation which is pursued largely for others and not merely for one’s self, an occupation in which the amount of financial return is not the accepted measure of success.”
That description – of our profession being pursued largely for others and for which the accepted measure of success is not financial -- that description is not the typical description you hear of lawyers, is it? And yet it is exactly what I am going to speak to you about today.
Because you have not chosen a job. You have chosen a profession. A profession that, when practiced at its best and with integrity, is in fact “a noble profession”.
Co-Dean Michael Scharf kicked off his remarks with an acknowledging that the home of the law school, University Circle, occupies the traditional homeland of the Len Uh Pee, Shawnee, Why An Dot, Ottawa, Poto Wah Napee, and other great lakes tribes who were forcibly displaced in the early years of our nation. In recognition of this, the 2023 3L JD class gift is a land acknowledgment plaque that will forever adorn the walkway in front of the law school.
“The Class of 2023 has left an indelible mark on this law school,” Scharf remarked. “Your time here corresponded with the height of one of history’s most deadly pandemics. When the JDs arrived three years ago, you had to take classes, participate in extracurricular activities, and even socialize with friends at first remotely and later while wearing masks.”
“But rather than become distracted, you retained your focus; rather than become dispirited, you persevered. Within our virtual and physical classrooms you engaged in vigorous debates about the weighty legal issues of the day. You won an unprecedented number of awards at national and international moot court and mock trial competitions and writing competitions. You edited and wrote impressive law review articles that will have an impact on the law. You helped document atrocities in far away lands for eventual prosecution. And in our Clinics, Labs and externships you’ve worked on cases that have changed, and in some cases literally saved, lives! You have made us all very proud.”
Student speaker Gabriel Kaufman chose to direct his remarks primarily to the guests and family members of the graduating class.
“It’s often said that law school transforms graduates, teaching us how to ‘think like a lawyer.’ But ‘law school’ didn’t transform your graduate or teach them anything. While the school opened the door, we had to walk through it. Law school isn’t one of those things that just passively ‘happens’ every once in a while, if you wait long enough, like the changing of the seasons. Rather, your graduate spent three years transforming and teaching themselves - and that’s a very hard thing to do. To transform requires both enough foresight to generate a vision of the kind of person one wants to become - here, a lawyer - and enough introspection and humility to modify one’s actions, thought process, and even value system to bring it into harmony with that vision.”
To close the proceedings, Co-Dean Jessica Berg offered these parting words to the graduates.
“As you reflect on your time here and begin this next phase of your life, consider the words of Maya Angelou: “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” You will not choose the challenges you face– you certainly didn’t choose the ones you faced these past few years!-- but you will choose how you react to those challenges and the pathways you choose in response. To borrow from words sometimes attributed to Abraham Lincoln, “you can lament that the rose bushes have thorns or rejoice that the thorn bushes have roses.”
Video recordings of the 2023 Commencement Ceremony are now available.