Grit and Adaptability: CWRU School of Law Student Commencement Speakers Provide Perspective on Past Three Years

Nadia Haile and Makela Hayford
From left: Nadia Haile and Makela Hayford

Nadia Haile (LAW ‘22) and Makela Hayford (LAW ‘22), immediate past co-presidents of the Student Bar Association at CWRU School of Law, spoke at Commencement on Saturday, May 14. Their well-chosen words provided a memorable and meaningful student perspective on attending law school during an especially eventful three years—including a global pandemic, racial and social injustice, the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol building and groundbreaking U.S. Supreme Court nominations. Here's what they had to share:

Nadia Haile

Hello, Class of 2022! It has been an unforgettable three years with you and oh, am I happy to be walking across this stage! I know I’m not the only one who feels that way. When we were brainstorming what to speak about today, we thought, well … What do we remember the most about law school?

First thing that came to mind was the global pandemic. We started our first year all happy-go-lucky, then boom—we go home for spring break and don't come back (to campus) for a year and a half. We can all say we officially attended Zoom University School of Law.

Then we thought about George Floyd, Brionna Taylor and the many other fallen friends and loved ones that sparked and continued this social justice movement. 

We thought about George Brazier, Professor Leon Gabinet and Professor Peter Gerhart, the cherished friends and professors at the law school that passed away in our time here. 

The contentious election and Supreme Court nominations. We can’t forget about the insurrection. All pretty topical, especially while in law school.

And then we got to our exams, motions, memos and citations. 

Now looking back at that list, quite honestly, exams seemed like a breeze. And I can only say that now in retrospect because during finals, I might not have agreed. Two weeks ago prior to my evidence exam, I was positively freaking out.

But then we thought, coming into law school everyone told us it's hard because of the tests, the motions, the memos and the citations. In actuality, our past three years were difficult for many more reasons than simply academics. 

We bring attention to this because we all are here in this room today. No matter how many hurdles we faced, we cleared them. We might have gotten nicked a few times, came out with a few scratches and bruises, but we learned to adapt. Our class has grit and we were sure to show it. Just ask the Deans. This grit and this adaptability is vital to our success as future attorneys. Especially as all these events shaped the legal world we are entering, I’m so excited to see how we shape that world. 

Makela Hayford

When you get your diploma, take a moment to really look at it and remember that this piece of paper is way too expensive to be squandered. And when I say expensive, I am in part referencing our student loans, but we all know the expense of missing out on time with friends and family, the expense of sleep, stress, all kinds of personal sacrifices to get here today. Regardless of what you paid for it, it is expensive. It is also a privilege that carries great responsibility. 

As we celebrate our accomplishments today, I believe that there is a way for us to appreciate all we’ve learned without glossing over the shortcomings of the law itself. In fact, today I want us to remember all of the times where we learned how the law fails us, because it's the only way to fix it. Personally, I kept a separate notebook for this.

In this notebook, I documented the times I was disappointed, shocked, outraged by the reasoning or the outcome of the case. These were times where I felt an intense dissonance between the values we know to be in the best interests of communities, and the centuries old doctrine that we were learning. 

We all know that the stakes are high: The effects of many ill-conceived or ill-enforced laws produced wars, genocides, slavery and significant human rights abuses. The loss of reproductive rights, the inability to marry who you love, systemic racism. There is a great responsibility that comes with learning the law.

For that reason, I don’t have much patience for anyone who mocked our resolve, our optimism, and our fire when we were first-year law students.  We didn’t know the law yet, but we were ready to use it to change the world. We weren’t under the illusion that law school was a vacuum where we could insulate ourselves from the world unfolding before us. We took it head on. My hope is that we can now pair our 1L passion with our new expertise.

My favorite part of being in this class of 2022 is that no matter how many times the so-called unprecedented, uncertain, unfamiliar chaos of the past three years flung itself between us and our commitment to building a better world, we stayed the course. We built paths for others, we helped each other along the way. Someone even shared all of the secret law review outlines for everyone to use. We protested, we made noise, we changed policies. We showed up.  

When I think about all of this, I think about a particular lyric written by Katharine Lee Bates,  “Oh beautiful for heroes proved, in liberating strife.”  Class of 2022, I believe that we are some truly beautiful people. And I cannot wait to see how we’ll work towards a liberated world. Congratulations!